Number of patients on trolleys in A&E departments worst ever


SOME 511 patients were on trolleys in hospital emergency departments yesterday, the highest number ever recorded by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

A number of hospitals have had to postpone elective surgery to get to grips with the overcrowding. When there were 495 patients on trolleys in March 2006, Minister for Health Mary Harney declared a national emergency and set up a taskforce to seek solutions.

The INMO said the very high numbers of patients on trolleys waiting for beds was primarily due to more than 1,000 acute hospital beds being closed.

The Health Service Executive (HSE), however, countered that emergency departments were “busy” largely because of the increase in people suffering with swine flu and other seasonal illnesses. It urged the public to keep emergency departments for emergencies and to contact their GP or out-of-hours GP service.

Cork University Hospital, with 45 patients on trolleys, had the largest number on trolleys early yesterday. The hospital said by afternoon this was down to 23 but it was forced to postpone routine elective surgery.

The hospital with the largest number of patients on trolleys in Dublin was Beaumont with 36 people. The hospital said this was down to 24 by afternoon. It said the pressure was due to factors including extra patients being treated for flu. A number of elective admissions were postponed.

University College Hospital Galway postponed some elective surgery yesterday, cancelled 15 procedures scheduled for today and imposed visitor restrictions.

Liam Doran, general secretary of the INMO, said there was usually a spike in patients on trolleys in January but figures peaking so early were “a bad sign” and indicated we are “in a crisis”. It was as a result of closed beds; lack of, and cuts to, community supports; delayed discharges; and a blind obsession with staying within budgets regardless of consequences for frontline services, he said. He added that every year there were extra cases of flu and respiratory illnesses at this time, so the problem could have been foreseen by the HSE.

The INMO began its daily trolley count in 2004 and yesterday’s was the highest since records began. Meanwhile, the total trolley count for Limerick Regional Hospital yesterday was 51.

Mary Fogarty, industrial relations officer with the INMO in the midwest region, said over Christmas patients had little access to diagnostic tests and procedures and this led to very few discharges. She added the hospital has been under severe pressure since reconfiguration of acute services in the midwest region began in April 2009. A spokesman for the hospital said emergency departments are under pressure because of cold weather, seasonal demands and swine flu.