Last year was the worst ever on record for overcrowding in the country’s public hospitals, nurses have said.
More than 108,200 patients deemed to require admission to a hospital bed had to wait on trolleys in emergency departments or on wards, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said in a report released on Wednesday.
The report said Limerick University Hospital experienced the worst level of overcrowding last year, with more than 11,000 patients on trolleys or on wards at various times waiting for admission to a bed.
The trade union said the level of overcrowding recorded last year represented a 9 per cent rise on the figures recorded in 2017 which itself saw record numbers of patients queueing for admission to a hospital bed.
“This is nearly double the number in 2006 (55,720), when INMO records began,”the union said.
The period immediately after the Christmas break has in recent years seen a surge in the number of patients on trolleys and on wards in public hospitals awaiting admission to a bed. However, over the current Christmas period, overcrowding levels in hospitals have been lower than in previous years.
Minister for Health Simon Harris said on Monday that fewer patients were waiting on hospital trolleys than at the same period in December 2017.
Mr Harris said there were 34 per cent fewer patients waiting in emergency departments to be admitted on Monday than on the same day last year.
He was speaking after a meeting with Health Service Executive officials to get an update on the rollout of the agency's winter plan.
The INMO report said the highest levels of overcrowding last year were recorded in January, February and March.
It said the worst-hit hospitals last year for overcrowding were Limerick University Hospital – where 11,437 patients had to wait for admission to a bed; Cork University Hospital (9,135); Galway University Hospital (7,452); Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore (5,831); and Tallaght University Hospital (5,432).
The INMO said smaller hospitals also saw record overcrowding last year. The union said South Tipperary General Hospital, for example, had 5,201 patients on trolleys this year.
The union claimed the overcrowding was due to low bed capacity and understaffing.
INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “Despite the Government spin, 2018 was the worst year on record for overcrowding. Negative records were set throughout the year, with over 100,000 admitted patients forced to wait on trolleys and chairs, without a proper bed. We know that this dramatically worsens outcomes for our patients.
“The health service does not have enough beds to support our population. More beds means more nurses, but the HSE simply can’t hire enough on these wages. It’s beyond time for the Government to engage proactively with the INMO to resolve the crisis in Irish nursing and midwifery,” she said.
Nurses and midwives who are members of the INMO and the Psychiatric Nurses Association have overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action as part of a campaign for higher pay to deal with recruitment and retention problems in public hospitals.
The executives of both trade unions are scheduled to meet next week to decide on the dates for proposed work stoppages.