‘Not where we need to be’ on A&E overcrowding, O’Brien says

There will be significant difficulties in winter unless improvements made - HSE head says

HSE director general Tony O’Brien

HSE director general Tony O’Brien


Based on current figures, overcrowding in hospital emergency departments will cause significant difficulties over winter unless improvements are made, HSE director general Tony O’Brien has said.

With 368 patients recorded on trolleys on Wednesday night, Mr O’Brien said “we’re not where we need to be at this time of year”.

Mr O’Brien, who has just assumed the role of chairman of the emergency department taskforce, told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One that he intended to work with the recently established hospital groups and community health organisations to reduce overcrowding across the State.

He said individual improvements, such as the turnaround in the fair deal scheme and the opening of more beds, are taking place but are “not having the desired cumulative effect”.

Winter tends to place extra pressure on emergency departments and Mr O’Brien said he wanted, “at a minimum”, this winter to be better than last winter and no worse than winter 2013. He said he wanted at least 100 fewer patients on trolleys.

Mr O’Brien added that understaffing was a problem that won’t be solved in the immediate term. “There are certain specialities where there is a shortage of personnel,” he said. “Even if there was limitless pay we wouldn’t be able to magic up emergency department consultants between now and Christmas.”

He said the next meeting of the emergency department taskforce, which is co-chaired by Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation Liam Doran, will take place on Monday to discuss current progress in the preparations for winter.

Mr O’Brien said he shared Minister for Health Leo Varadkar’s concern with the problem. The Minister recently told senior health officials a high-level public servant will have to be sacked “for accountability” if the trolley crisis in hospitals is not fixed.

In a separate email sent to Mr O’Brien on June 30th in response to a report that showed there were 358 patients on trolleys at that time - more than 140 higher than in the same period in 2014 - the Mr Varadkar said: “Were (sic) definitely losing this battle at the moment. Any thoughts?”