Hospitals ‘overwhelmed’ by overcrowding, admits Varadkar

Minister regrets cancellation of non-essential surgery on Thursday at Cork University Hospital

A patient waits in a stretcher trolley inside the emergency services unit of the Saint-Joseph hospital in Paris, on August 20, 2013.  AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU        (Photo credit should read PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images)

A patient waits in a stretcher trolley inside the emergency services unit of the Saint-Joseph hospital in Paris, on August 20, 2013. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU (Photo credit should read PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Hospitals are becoming “overwhelmed” by large numbers of patients presenting with flu symptoms and flood-related injuries, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has admitted.

He expressed regret at the cancellation of all non-essential surgeries at Cork University Hospital on Thursday as staff there deal with severe levels of overcrowding.

Latest figures show almost 500 people were placed on trolleys or hospital wards countrywide on Thursday as emergency departments struggle to cope with huge demand, although there has been a decrease compared to Wednesday’s figure of 536.

The Minister was hesitant to rule out an increase in overcrowding over coming weeks as trolley and ward figures remain close to the all-time high of 601 set last January. He said the number of people presenting with influenza is now running three-times over the regular base level.

“There’s roughly a 10 per cent increase in attendance at hospitals this January compared to last, and even though we have 5 per cent more capacity in the system, we’re being overwhelmed by unprecedented demand,” he said, referencing the impact of increased admissions due to slips and falls related to flooding.

He further sought to assure patients who have had their surgeries postponed that they will not be put to the back of the queue.

“As Minister for Health [I] and of course the hospitals regret anyone having their operations cancelled, and they will be rescheduled as soon as possible. They won’t go back to the end of the waiting list - they will be prioritised to be rescheduled as soon as they can be done.”

Mr Varadkar called on vulnerable members of society to avail of flu inoculations, and issued a particular message to healthcare staff to get vaccinated following recent statistics which showed less than one quarter of hospital workers did so during the last flu season.

The Minister was speaking at the launch of Safefood’s new Weight-mate weight loss app, which features advice on healthy recipes, a physical activity tracker and the option for users to set up a weight loss or physical activity group with others in their locality.

It comes as latest research shows nearly two in three Irish adults are overweight or obese, with a third of the over-18 population actively seeking to lose weight.

“Quick-fix, fad diets are unsustainable and ineffective and we know that it only leads to people ‘yo-yo’ dieting and regaining the weight they’ve lost or, in some cases, even becoming heavier,” said Safefood’s director of human health and nutrition Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan.

“Our free Weight-mate app helps people to set goals, make realistic plans to eat better and exercise more and monitor those,” she added.

The app is designed for use by adults, and is free to download for Android and iPhone devices.