Hospital beds crisis: ‘It's like trying to put out a fire with a tea cup’

Consultants say HSE plans will fail to provide enough beds to ease overcrowding

The vice president of Irish Hospital Consultants Association has said the number of new beds planned by the HSE this year is "like trying to put out a fire with a tea cup".

Dr Laura Durcan said the Irish health system is far behind where it needs to be with 300 fewer beds than a decade ago while there has been an increase in population.

There were 760 patients waiting on trolleys in hospital emergency departments or on wards on Monday morning, the worst since records began, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the record trolley numbers were due to the current flu outbreak and a longer-term shortage of hospital beds. He admitted hospitals were "severely overcrowded" at present.


Dr Durcan said the HSE could have planned better as the health care needs of the nation “are predictable”.

"We are going to see this year-on-year. It is like trying to put out a fire with a tea cup. They should just hold up their hands and declare a national emergency," Dr Durcan told RTÉ's Morning Ireland on Tuesday.

Ninety-two patients were on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick (UHL) on Monday waiting to be admitted to hospital beds, the highest level ever for an individual hospital. The previous record for the most patients waiting on trolleys in one hospital was 82.

Dr Fergal Hickey, emergency medicine consultant, said that "the dogs in the street" know more beds are the solution to the trolley crisis.

Dr Hickey, who is also communications officer for the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, said that the fundamental issue is the ever increasing demand for beds and that even if emergency departments continue to send home three quarters of the patients they see, they will still require beds for the remaining 25 per cent and that number is increasing all the time.

The trolley crisis is no longer a winter issue, he told Newstalk Breakfast. “This is a day by day, week by week problem and we are setting new records [for numbers on trolleys] all the time,” he said.

“If they think this is a winter problem then they’re wrong.”

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) also said the decision to cancel elective surgery at Cork hospitals will have “severe knock-on consequences for patient health outcomes”.

Dr Donal O’Hanlon, president of the ICHA, said the decision is “simply not acceptable”.

“It is forcing hospitals and the consultants who treat patients to determine which patient is more worthy of treatment,” he said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times