An unforeseeable winter health crisis?


Sir, – Who exactly does our Minister for Health Simon Harris think he is fooling with his entirely unbelievable suggestion that the current hospital bed crisis could not have been predicted?

As a working GP in practice for 17 years, I don’t think I have ever heard such an outrageous statement by a sitting Minister.

Our hospitals have been in a constant state of crisis for many years. The annual winter deterioration in the “trolley numbers” is a regular feature of this ongoing crisis. There is nothing unusual about an outbreak of flu in late December – that is the peak flu season for those of us who work in primary care, and the situation is predictably exacerbated by families getting together for Christmas and exchanging their viruses!

Our hospitals are being mismanaged nationally and in many cases also at a local level.

On recent visits to our local hospital, I have been appalled at the vision of multiple patients on trolleys in a public thoroughfare with no hope of rest, which is surely essential to their recovery.

In this environment, our dedicated nurses and doctors are managing the best they can, but suffering terrible stress as they try to cope with the dangers inherent in practising such “field-hospital medicine”.

We seem to be normalising this existence for emergency patients, and we must strive not to allow that to happen.

A busy corridor is not a therapeutic environment, and until such a time as our Government bites the bullet on increasing hospital bed numbers, I would suggest that a quiet corridor in the administration area of the hospital would be preferable to the public thoroughfares around the emergency department.

I beseech our Minister for Health to stop defending the indefensible and try and lead us to a solution to this dreadful crisis. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – Your front-page headline “Harris claims crisis could not be foreseen” (January 4th) represents an extraordinary statement from any Minister for Health. Of course flu and chest infections in winter can be predicted. Every doctor knows this, and every mother and grandmother knows it also. The extent and severity of these illnesses varies but they occur every single year, without exception. The HSE managers should be ready for this situation every year. That is why we employ them. – Yours, etc,


Gorey, Co Wexford.

Sir, – Reacting to high hospital trolley occupancy numbers, reported as having reached 612 on Tuesday, the Minister for Health Simon Harris has proposed a “bed capacity review”. This in itself implies a dearth of information. The only statistic that appears to influence the current debate is hospital trolley numbers, provided, not by the Department of Health or the HSE, but by the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (INMO). The management of large-scale services is a complex logistics challenge that cannot be addressed without access to a wide source of data for analysis, of which hospital trolley numbers is just one. The Minister, or the HSE, might advise exactly what data is available on a daily basis for analysis, eg the number of admissions, the number of admitted patients that have seen a doctor, staffing levels, the number of beds released, etc. If they have this information, it would be even more useful if it were published. – Yours, etc,


Churchtown, Dublin 14.

Sir, – Why is a union reporting the number of patients on trolleys day by day? Surely there are enough administrators already employed in hospitals to do just that!

It would be interesting to know the number of hours invested each day in collecting and reporting these figures from around the country. Nurses and midwives should stop wasting time on tasks like this and concentrate on their real jobs. – Yours, etc,



Co Kildare.

Sir, – Closing hospital emergency services in Loughlinstown in Dublin and Ennis, Co Clare, among others, has only served to overload existing services, rendering them incapable of dealing with the numbers arriving daily.

The current situation is a crisis that is unnecessary, socially destructive and utterly depressing. Until hospital conditions are improved for patients, which in turn would improve the working conditions for nursing and ancillary staff, we will continue with the disaster that is the Irish hospital service. – Yours, etc,



Co Dublin.

Sir, – Instead of honestly admitting a national crisis, the Minster for Health has followed the lead of his several failed predecessors and blamed the A&E trolley crisis on the winter flu outbreak. His proposals to address the crisis are laughable. Why is his ingenious solution to review potential discharge for patients not already happening on a daily basis as part of the efficient running of our hospitals? Has he consulted the unions with regard to a proposal to extend diagnostic services into the late evening?

I am tired of immaculately coiffed Ministers and hospital managers – each lavishly remunerated – appearing in the media and proclaiming they were caught off guard by the flu. I also pay far too much tax to be living in fear that I or someone I care about would be subjected to the indignity of the trolley experience through no fault of their own. It was never and still is not good enough for the Minister and HSE management to play the blame game when there are human dignity and lives at stake. Sort it out, now. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.