Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he does not yet "fully understand" why overcrowding is increasing in Cork, Limerick and Galway hospitals.
Latest Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) "Trolley Watch" figures show the worst-performing hospitals were University Hospital Limerick, University Hospital Galway, and Cork University Hospital.
Speaking on Thursday at Beaumont hospital in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said there were “serious problems” around emergency department overcrowding in the three hospitals, “for reasons that I don’t yet fully understand”.
Thursday Trolley Watch figures showed 76 patients were waiting for beds in wards or emergency departments in University Hospital Limerick, with the hospital experiencing its highest-ever levels of overcrowding in recent days.
Overall however, Mr Varadkar said the number of people waiting on trolleys was at a "five-year low," based on the Health Service Executive (HSE) and nursing union figures.
“Although that is varying hospital to hospital, really good improvement here in Beaumont, whereas serious problems in Cork, Limerick and Galway,” he said.
A spokesman for the INMO rejected the suggestion that figures were improving: “Trolley figures are exceptionally high in recent weeks. Five years ago trolley figures were lower nationally, and we’re seeing this problem get worse and worse,” the spokesman said.
New cochlear implant centre
The Taoiseach was speaking at the opening of a new national hearing implant centre at Beaumont Hospital, north Dublin
Professor Laura Viani, head of the Beaumont cochlear implant team, had been lobbying for the national centre for several years. She led the funding campaign for the research centre, alongside the HSE, Beaumont Hospital, and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
At the opening ceremony, guests heard the implant unit in the hospital started off under Prof Viani in 1995 with little more than a computer, a chair and two staff.
The service in Beaumont, and advances in technology, had made a huge difference in the lives of many people who had been born deaf or with hearing difficulties, Mr Varadkar said.
“It really has transformed the lives of people who were born into a life of silence, and would have lived a life of silence had it not been for this technology,” he said.
The new centre was also an example of the benefits of involving patients in the design of services, he said. “We’ve also seen how wrong things go with healthcare when you don’t include patients and patient groups in the design and management of service,” Mr Varadkar said.
The opening ceremony was also attended by Minister of State with responsibility for disability services Finian McGrath, whose Dublin Bay North constituency covers Beaumont Hospital.
Every year around 100 babies are born with hearing difficulties in Ireland, and the unit in Beaumont carry out more than 200 cochlear implants annually.