Calm falls on hospital corridors after night of trolley chaos

St Vincent’s and Mater emergency departments return to normal, but for how long?

The INMO recorded 23 people on trolleys in the Mater hospital on Wednesday, decreasing slightly during the day. File photograph: Frank Miller

The chaotic scenes that are normally associated with stories about hospitals, patients and trolleys were absent on the Mater hospital’s Acute Medicine Ward on Wednesday evening, as darkness fell.

Every bed was occupied, but there were no patients in chairs in corridors. Staff moved quickly but calmly as they dealt with patients.

“You came at a good time,” a nurse said. “Come back later.”

The slightly sardonic remark best illustrated a sense that a calm of sorts had fallen in some of Dublin’s hospitals on Wednesday following a night which saw record numbers of patients on trolleys across the country.


Earlier, frontline staff at the Mater hospital and St Vincent’s University Hospital said the situation had slowly improved during the day as beds became free on wards and patients were moved from emergency departments.

Lull in crisis

However, many staff believed that this is merely a lull in the crisis that could last for months to come, with huge numbers of flu sufferers, many of them elderly, expected over the coming weeks.

Patients had stories to tell. Marge, an elderly woman who walks with a crutch, came to St Vincent’s emergency department at 6pm on Tuesday for a scan. She was still in the small waiting room seven hours later.

“When I arrived there were people waiting there six hours and they were there for a few hours more after that,” she said. “It’s cruel.”

She was sent home after her scan and told to come back on Wednesday afternoon.

“They have me waiting out here again. I’m going to say something. Why do I have to wait in the accident department again? I’m exhausted.”

Triage nurse

As she spoke a triage nurse called her into a small office. She returned a few minutes later. “They just looked at my letter and sent me back out.”

A nurse said St Vincent’s emergency department has a capacity for 60 patients but had to deal with 100 on Tuesday night.

“We’re just starting to get a handle on it,” she said.

Bernie Fahey was having a smoke outside the hospital, having been admitted the night before with chest pains.

“You would want to have seen it,” he said. “There were people sitting everywhere, against the walls and on the sides of beds.

“When they were trying to serve the tea it was chaos.”

On Wednesday afternoon the emergency department was still busy but patients were processed relatively quickly. St Vincent’s was the worst-hit hospital in Dublin on Tuesday with 19 patients on trolleys. That number had fallen to 18 on Wednesday morning.

The situation was worse in the Mater hospital where the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) recorded 23 people on trolleys on Wednesday. This decreased slightly during the day, according to an emergency department nurse.


“Casualty was totally overwhelmed. The problem was people who should be going to their GPs but can’t get appointments because the doctors are overwhelmed since they brought in the free care for under-sixes.”

She said a large amount of new in-patients were flu suffers who can’t be sent home because of their age.

“The people who are being admitted with the flu have very complex needs. A lot of them are very old, they are diabetic, living alone. The Minister is talking about home-help packages. That’s not happening, there’s no home help in the community, no one wants to work in it.”

The January hospital crisis – a recurring feature in the Irish hospital service – is complicated the fact that this is when new trainee doctors start their rotations, said a Mater nurse. Between 20 and 30 per cent of non-consultant hospital doctors are rotated.

“We have to train them in with the consultants but they’re not totally inexperienced,” the nurse said. “July is trickier because some of the new doctors then are totally wet behind the ears and just out of school.”

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times