HSE warns of longer waiting time in emergency departments

Surge in number of older, sicker patients attending EDs and admissions also rising

The HSE has warned of “significant challenges” in hospital emergency departments (EDs) leading to longer waits and higher trolley numbers.

The number of older, sicker patients attending at EDs surged last week and the number of patients admitted also rose.

In the west, the Saolta hospital group reported a 16 per cent increase in numbers compared to the same week in 2019.

The reasons for the increase are unclear, but officials have linked it to the reopening of society and an accompanying rise in accidents.


Health Service Executive chief operations officer Anne O’Connor suggested there may be a pent-up demand among patients caused by the pandemic. The cyberattack on the HSE’s information technology systems may also be a factor, with patients whose appointments were cancelled now turning up at emergency departments. GPs unable to access diagnostic services have been referring patients to the EDs for their scans, said Ms O’Connor on Thursday.

Cyberattack aftermath

In addition, many EDs are experiencing delays caused by a reliance on paper-based systems since the cyberattack knocked out their IT systems.

The number of beds available in the hospital system plummeted to 162 last week, from 467 the week before. If these trends continue, the health service will face significant challenges in relation to trolley numbers and ED waits, warned Ms O’Connor.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said recovery from the cyberattack on the IT systems will last weeks and most likely months. The attack is still affecting services and only a skeletal set of systems are running across the health service.

About half of all servers are operating again within their own hospital, and one-quarter for “some functionality”.

The immediate priority will be to restore community systems and to build communications between hospitals.

Mr Reid described the period since the cyberattack in mid-May as “35 days of hell” for the health service.

Online referral for Covid-19 testing is being provided for all centres from the end of this week, he said. The measure, being introduced due to lingering effects of the cyberattack, means people with symptoms will not have to contact their GPs in order to book a test.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.