Record levels of overcrowding at hospitals remain for second day in row
Overcrowding in the country's hospitals remains at record levels for a second day in a row.
A headcount of patients on trolleys by the Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation (INMO) found 602 people waiting for a proper bed in a cubicle on a ward.
It is only the third time in more than 10 years that the figure has breached 600 with the crisis at its worst at University Hospital Limerick, where 66 patients had been admitted but no space could be found for them.
In Tallaght Hospital in Dublin it was reported that nine people on trolleys should have been in isolation but were not.
Among others suffering the worst overcrowding included Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore, where 45 people were on trolleys, and South Tipperary General Hospital, where 41 people were in a similar position.
Elsewhere, there were 30 people or more on trolleys in hospitals in Waterford, Galway, Kilkenny, Portlaoise, Mullingar and both the Mercy and University hospitals in Cork.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) called on Health Minister Simon Harris and other health managers to s top blaming a surge in flu illness and warned that a lack of beds, staff and investment in GP practices is at the root of the problem.
Dr Peadar Gilligan, consultant in emergency medicine at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said: "Politicians often complicate what is a very simple explanation for our overcrowding crisis.
"It's not because of seasonal issues or a spike in flu cases.
"It's because politicians knowingly and deliberately took 1,600 beds out of our hospitals, introduced policies that were a direct cause of doctors emigrating and failed to invest in general practice."
Dr Gilligan said it was a miracle the numbers on trolleys were not even higher.
Mr Harris claimed that the scale of flu illness in the first week of January could not have been predicted and it was being compounded by outbreaks of respiratory illnesses.
His assertions were dismissed by health professionals.
Jim Gray, an A&E consultant in Tallaght and lecturer at Trinity College, said Ireland has 2.8 hospital beds for every 1,000 people, while the norm in other western and developed countries is 4.8 beds.
He also warned before Christmas that the trolley watch numbers would drop significantly in the run-in to the holidays only to balloon again this week.
Fergal Hickey, an A&E consultant at Sligo University Hospital, also warned about the low number of acute hospital beds in Ireland.
According to the Health Service Executive (HSE) winter initiative plan, designed to deal with the surge in demand for beds, no more than 236 patients should be on trolleys on a single day.
Sinn Fen leader Gerry Adams blamed mismanagement in the health service for the unprecedented overcrowding and hit out at Mr Harris's claims about flu levels.
"Such a proposition is nonsense. It has been clear for months now that this winter was going to see the health service at crisis point," Mr Adams said.
Alan Kelly, Labour's health spokesman, said all available beds must be opened immediately and spare capacity in private hospitals accessed.
"It is naive of the minister to just blame the flu for a crisis we all saw coming, with no shortage of proposals put forward to alleviate the situation," Mr Kelly said.
"The minister's so-called 'perfect storm' is an indictment of his failure to adequately plan, prepare and ensure appropriate resources are in place."