Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha.
Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha.
Health Minister Simon Harris at a HSE briefing

Hospitals are struggling with the worst ever day of overcrowding this morning with 760 patients on trolleys.

The number of patients on trolleys this morning would more than fill the largest hospital in the state, St. James (707 beds) or take more than twice the equivalent of Letterkenny University Hospital (333 beds), nurses warned.

The previous worst-ever day was March 12 ,2018 during the “Beast from the East”, when 714 patients went without beds, said the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

University Hospital Limerick (UHL) has also broken the daily record for an individual hospital, with 92 patients on trolleys. The previous highest figure was 82, also in UHL.

The worst-hit hospitals include:

  • University Hospital Limerick – 92
  • Cork University Hospital – 56
  • University Hospital Galway – 47
  • South Tipperary General Hospital – 40

The INMO is calling for a major incident protocol to be adopted across the country, as was done in March 2018. This would likely see all non-emergency admissions stopped, electives cancelled, and extra bed capacity sourced from the private and public sectors.

The union is also calling for an infection control plan, as overcrowding increases infection risks.

INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said: “Ireland’s beleaguered health service continues to break records in the worst possible way. Our members are working in impossible conditions to provide the best care they can.

“The excuse that this is all down to the flu simply doesn’t hold. There are always extra patients in winter, but we simply do not get the extra capacity to cope. This is entirely predictable, yet we seemingly fail to deal with it every year.

“The government need to immediately initiate a major incident protocol. We need to cancel elective surgeries, stop non-emergency admissions, and source extra capacity wherever we can.

“We also need to immediately scrap the HSE’s counterproductive recruitment pause, which is leaving these services understaffed and thus overcrowded.

“Behind these numbers are hundreds of individual vulnerable patients – it is a simply shameful situation. This is entirely preventable if proper planning was in place.”

Visiting has been banned at UHL until further notice as the hospital continues to manage high volumes of patients with influenza, some of whom have been admitted to the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

“As flu can be carried in to the hospital, it is necessary with immediate effect to impose these strict visitor restrictions. We apologise for any inconvenience or anxiety the restrictions may cause patients and their loved ones. However, these measures are being taken in the interests of patient safety and we appeal to the public for their co-operation at this time,” said a UHL spokesperson.

“The only exceptions to the visiting ban are people visiting patients who are at end-of-life, critically ill and confused patients (e.g. dementia). Parents visiting paediatric patients are also exempt.”

“The visiting ban includes the Emergency Department at UHL and with the exception of patients in the above categories.”

“Members of the public are reminded not to bring children on visits anywhere in the hospital.”

Infection prevention and control measures are in place and every effort is being made to manage and contain the spread of the flu. However such is the volume of patients with flu and flu-like symptoms, we are cohorting these patients where no isolation facilities are available.”

“The predominant strain is influenza A. A small number of patients have become seriously ill, including some who have required treatment in the intensive care unit.”

“This demonstrates how serious flu can be and we are encouraging members of the public, especially those in at-risk groups, to get the flu vaccine if they have not already done so.”

“People with flu like symptoms are advised to contact their GP by phone in the first instance and avoid presenting at the Emergency Department at UHL.”

“This peak in flu activity coincides with what is traditionally a busy New Year period in our hospitals. UHL has been experiencing a high number of patients attending the ED in recent days. We have admitted a lot of seriously ill patients , many of who remain in the ED awaiting a bed.”

We are asking people to think about all their care and treatment options and keep ED services for the patients who need them most. For example, many patients with limb injuries can go to an Injury Unit in Ennis, Nenagh or St John’s Hospital. Injury Units are open in Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Sunday and 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday at St. John’s Hospital.”

“Others with a less serious illness can be treated by their GP or out of hours GP service where their GP can refer them to an Assessment Unit the following day if required. However, if you are seriously injured or ill or are worried your life is at risk the ED will assess and treat you as a priority.”

People are asked by the hospital to visit http://undertheweather.ie/ for practical advice on how to mind yourself or your family when sick.

Meanwhile, all elective surgery is to be cancelled at Cork’s two main hospitals in a bid to tackle overcrowding, which reached a record high yesterday.

There were 73 patients waiting for a bed at Cork University Hospital (CUH).

The INMO warned that CUH and Mercy University Hospital were operating “beyond their limits”.

However, following a “lengthy meeting” between the South/South West Hospital Group (SSWHG), the HSE and the INMO yesterday, a number of measures were agreed to tackle overcrowding.

These include cancelling elective surgery, stopping non-emergency admissions and looking for extra bed capacity from the public and private sectors.

The SSWHG said there had been a “considerably high volume of people presenting at emergency departments (EDs) and flu admissions” across the region, but in particular at the two Cork hospitals.

It appealed to anyone experiencing flu symptoms to contact their GP before attending the ED.

Siptu warned yesterday that the overcrowding crisis is also causing chaos for ambulance staff across the country.

Paul Bell, the union’s health division organiser, said: “While the HSE and Department of Health are responding to some areas of the overcrowding crisis, primarily by attempting to boost the number of beds available in hospitals, there seems to be little consideration or emergency planning to make sure ambulances are kept on the road and readily available for communities.”

Online Editors

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