Record number of patients on hospital trolleys at 612
INMO says this is only the second time the count has ever breached 600
There were 93,621 admitted patients on trolleys during 2016 - a record figure for a calendar year, the INMO said.
The number of people stuck on trolleys in Irish hospitals has reached its highest ever number three days into the new year - and is expected to rise.
It is only the second time the count has breached the 600 mark, hitting 601 on January 6th, 2015.
Numbers overall had nearly doubled between what had been described as a “national emergency” in 2007 (50,402 admitted patients on trolleys) and 2016 (93,621) - an increase of 86 per cent, the INMO said.
It expects the situation to deteriorate further, even though significant funding has recently reduced the “delayed discharge” rate - those remaining in hospital beds - to historically low levels.
Last year the rate peaked at over 800 beds and generally held at about 600, but had more recently dipped to a low of 435. This meant there should have been a reduction in the number of people left on trolleys, according to INMO general secretary Liam Doran.
The situation has been complicated by an ageing population, inadequate community facilities and, crucially, a simple lack of acute bed capacity, particularly outside the Dublin region, he said.
“It’s a disaster of unmitigated proportions as far as I am concerned and I don’t think it’s peaked,” Mr Doran said.
“This is a trend for the last eight or nine weeks, not even the last eight or nine days. We went into Christmas in a bad situation and we battled a bit, but it’s gone up now.
“It’s not [because of] delayed discharges. It’s not that famous term ‘bed-blockers’. I hope I am wrong, but one would be very concerned about the coming days.”
Mr Doran said the situation was deteriorating badly outside the capital and that the problem requiring most attention was a simple lack of capacity - about 2.8 beds per 1,000 people in Ireland compared to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) average of 4.8.
Increased staffing is also required, he said.
“There is a solution if you accept our bed capacity is well below international norms. This is irrefutable.”
Hospitals are traditionally under pressure at this time of the year and the latest figures are likely compounded by an increase in influenza rates.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said the rate of the illness has doubled in the past week, with older people at greater risk of contracting the predominant flu strain AH3. The illness is expected to spread in coming weeks.
Hospitalisation for influenza and flu in community hospitals and residential care facilities has also continued to rise.
According to the latest statistics, 96 people have been hospitalised for influenza so far in the 2016/2017 winter season, with the majority aged 65 years or older.
Eight cases of the flu strain have been admitted to critical care units and there has been one confirmed case of death this season to date .