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Record hospitals overcrowding blamed on flu, vomiting bugs and chest infections

Health chiefs have blamed flu, winter vomiting bugs and chest infections for a new record overcrowding crisis in the country's hospitals.

As the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) reported 612 patients waiting on trolleys in emergency units, wards and in corridors, the Health Service Executive (HSE) warned the unprecedented demand may run for weeks.

HSE bosses also disputed the nurses' head count, claiming that its records showed 487 patients waiting for a bed at 8am on Tuesday morning.

The HSE said the problem is being compounded by 2 1 outbreaks of respiratory infections and flu this season in hospitals, nursing homes and residential centres.

It also said there has been a significant increase in the number of over 75s seeking hospital care. They are twice as likely to be admitted and commonly stay twice as long.

The HSE claimed beds were being closed to stop infections spreading and to minimise staff illness.

Amid explanations from hospital managers, the INMO records show trolley waits now dwarf the figure of 495 when the crisis was declared a national emergency by then health minister Mary Harney.

It also beats another record set in January 2015 when trolley waits on a single day last topped 600.

The INMO said its head counts over the course of last year showed it was the most severe year on record for overcrowding. Some 93,621 patients were admitted to hospitals while on trolleys over the 12 months.

The union's general secretary Liam Doran said nurses and medics were genuinely concerned that overcrowding would worsen in coming days as the flu virus spreads.

"612 patients, admitted for care, for whom there is no bed, is a truly shocking figure," Mr Doran said.

"The compromising of care, not to mention the loss of privacy and dignity, cannot go unchallenged and must be acknowledged and addressed by health management."

The HSE said all hospitals are opening additional beds where they can, c ancelling scheduled admissions and p rioritising diagnostics while also focusing on treating the oldest patients.

The record trolley wait figures were released as the HSE reissued its appeal for at-risk people to get the flu vaccination and for anyone with symptoms of the winter vomiting bug to stay away from health care centres.

Reports from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said the reported rates of flu had almost doubled in recent days and they are expected to increase further in the coming weeks.

The worst overcrowding conditions were in University Hospital Limerick, where 46 people were waiting for beds on wards.

That was followed by the Midland Regional Hospital in Portlaoise where 42 people were on trolleys or in corridors, or waiting in wards, and there were 41 patients in the same position in the sister hospital in the region, the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore and in St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny.

In University Hospital Galway 40 people were waiting for full admission.

Health Minister Simon Harris met HSE chiefs as part of the the "winter initiative" response planning and called on hospital managers to redouble efforts to tackle increased patient numbers.

"There's very much a management piece to this," he said.

"It's a job for management and it's a job of the HSE to get on and make sure absolutely everything possible that can be done is being done."

A second meeting to discuss the winter initiative has been planned for Thursday.

Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said Health Minister Simon Harris had "failed miserably" on his commitments to tackle chronic overcrowding.

Sinn Fein health spokeswoman Louise O'Reilly said some hospitals were in a near-constant state of crisis, adding: "Far from being the exception, overcrowding is now the rule."

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