Hospitals across the country facing ‘avoidable delays’ leading to record number of overcrowding

By Eoin Ryan

Hospitals across the country are facing “avoidable delays” with record numbers of patients waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said the government is not taking enough action to prevent overcrowding and is putting too much pressure on frontline staff in hospitals.

“Our public health services are in an endless cycle of crisis,” an IMO spokesperson said.

“Too few doctors, too few beds and too few healthcare professionals. We are simply not investing enough in recruiting staff and increasing capacity to meet the needs of patients.”

Burnout rates for nurses is at “an all-time high” as they try to crisis manage the current situation which is of their “employers’ own making.”

The HSE said it has provided additional funding to secure private bed access, but noted not every patient is suitable for a private bed.

Nurses are preparing to go on strike due to unsafe working conditions caused by the current overcrowding. There are concerns that the cramped health settings are unsafe for both patients and staff and they are threatening to go on strike to highlight this point.

“The Executive Council of the INMO, made up of working nurses and midwives, have today taken the decision to begin a period of consultation on a campaign of industrial action in pursuance of safe staffing levels that are underpinned with legislation and clinical facilitation in all hospitals to ensure a safe skills mix,” Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said earlier this month.

“What has transpired this week in our hospitals was totally avoidable. For too long nurses and midwives have been warning that we were going to see an overcrowding blackspot in January unless serious and meaningful action was taken.”

“Nurses and midwives expect and deserve to work in a safe practice environment in which they can deliver the safe and excellent care they are trained to provide.”

Donnelly said there needs to be increased recruitment of hospital staff and that “we all want to see it faster,” when asked about the possible nurses’ strike

“Safe staffing levels are being rolled out across the country, the INMO quite rightly have said they want to see it faster,” Donnelly said.

Minister for health Stephen Donnelly denied that the chaos in hospitals could have been predicted, despite the health service always being busy at this time of year and warnings from the INMO that this will happen unless serious action was taken.

The HSE’s chief clinical officer said there has been a fall in the number of patients due to a “whole system” response but asking staff to work weekends would not be sustainable in the long term.

Surgeries across the country have been cancelled or put on hold as hospitals prioritise lowering the overcrowding crisis until the end of the month.

931 patients were waiting on trolleys in one day and people were waiting in emergency departments for up to 57 hours at the peak of overcrowding.

Health officials are warning that flu cases are expected to rise in the next three weeks, with an increase in hospitalisations likely.

“We have a much heavier and earlier flu wave that is being experienced here and right across Europe, in England, Northern Ireland, Austria and elsewhere,” Stephen Donnelly said.

Minister Jack Chambers has said there has been an under-utilisation by the Health Service Executive of bed capacity in private hospitals and the HSE needed to increase its usage.

Chambers also said the Government wants to work with the INMO and all healthcare workers to resolve the current overcrowding crisis.

Chairman of the IMO Consultant Committee Dr. Matthew Sadlier said it is highly likely some patients have died due to these delays. 

“There is an even stronger likelihood that we will see further increased deaths and delayed diagnosis because some people who should present at our Emergency Departments in the coming weeks will not now do so because of fears of what they have recently seen.” 

He said the doctors and health care professionals are “the only thing that has prevented the health services from tipping over into complete chaos.”

He also noted that recurring crises are inevitable unless radical changes are made as “years of underinvestment” has made health services dangerous for both patients and staff.

“The health service is already demanding too much from front-line staff; it has a long history of forcing NCHDs to work illegal and unsafe hours – often 80 hours or more a week; it can’t fill almost 1,000 consultant posts because it refuses to compete in the worldwide market for such sought-after talent and it will soon be facing the reality of a scarcity of GPs because it has treated GPs as workhorses on which endlessly increasing demands can be foisted rather than valuable resources that need support and investment.”

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