Almost 15,000 over-75s wait 24 hours in emergency departments

‘Disgraceful’ figures for first three months of the year already above total for 2017

Nearly 15,000 people over the age of 75 were forced to wait more than 24 hours to be seen in emergency departments in the first three months of 2018, according to figures released by the Health Service Executive.

A total of 14,757 over-75s had to wait that long in Irish hospitals between January and March 2018, a number already significantly above the total 11,261 cases caught in the same situation during the whole of last year.

Some 5,493 such patients were left waiting for care for more than a day in hospitals across Ireland in January 2018, while 4,619 had to wait more than 24 hours in February and 4,645 had to wait in March.

The highest number of delays was in Dublin's Mater hospital where some 1,405 people over 75 had to wait more than 24 hours for admission between January and March. The corresponding figures for Galway University Hospital and Tallaght hospital were 1,279 and 984 patients.


The latest data follows a parliamentary question by Fianna Fáil spokeswoman on older people Mary Butler. The HSE said it did not capture information on the waiting time for people in their 80s and older but did offer information for people over 75.

A letter to Ms Butler from the HSE Acute Hospitals Division admitted that in the first three months of 2018 there had been breaches in the “patient experience time” but that all hospitals “seek to optimise patient flow and minimise wait times for patients”.

“The HSE strives to ensure the provision of fair, equitable and timely access to quality, safe health services to all patients attending ED.”

Ms Butler described the figures as “shocking and disgraceful” and she stressed that the HSE target was that all attendees aged 75 years or more who attend an emergency department would be discharged or admitted within 24 hours of registration.

“Surely to force 14,757 over-75s to wait so long in an emergency department is a form of elder abuse,” said Ms Butler. “It can only be seen as a breach of basic human rights and dignity.”

“We need to break this vicious cycle and the recommendations of the bed capacity review must be acted on as a matter of urgency.”

Bizarre policy

A spokesman for Minister for Health Simon Harris said “nobody considers it acceptable that we have elderly patients waiting on trolleys in our Emergency Departments.”

“The Minister is determined to reverse the failed and bizarre policy of past governments, who cut hospital bed numbers despite knowing that we have an aging and growing population.

“Over 200 additional beds were opened this winter and further beds will open throughout 2018.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast