Officials have highlighted the impact of ‘bed blocking’ on the health service and appealed to patients and their families to help them free up spaces.
According to the latest figures, 222 people medically fit for discharge were taking up beds on Monday, while 205 were in emergency departments, waiting to be admitted.
Brendan Whittle, director of social care and children at the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), appealed to patients to accept care home places — even those that are not their first choice — on a temporary basis to help free up beds.
“Patients and their families are at times reluctant or are refusing to avail of the step-down beds that are there,” he said.
“We know our hospitals are in a difficult position. We have to step people down to care homes to stop our people having to wait for too long in emergency departments and waiting too long outside emergency departments in ambulances.
“My appeal is simple. I am asking for public support in these challenging times.
“We all know it’s inappropriate and just wrong for people to stay on in a hospital ward when there are people in emergency departments or in ambulances who need that care when we have alternative and suitable care for them.”
Mr Whittle said that while 222 patients were waiting for community care packages so they could be discharged, almost 590 care home beds were available.
He was unable to say how many of the 222 bed blockers turned down a place in a care home on Monday.
Paul Cavanagh, interim director of commissioning at the HSCB, also appealed for the public’s help.
“If we could discharge all of the patients today that we need to discharge, we would actually have the flow that we require, and those patients waiting within our emergency departments would be able to be dealt with,” he said.
He added that the introduction of vaccine passports was helpful in our view” and urged everyone to get a jab.
Mr Cavanagh was speaking at a briefing yesterday afternoon in which an emergency consultant told how medical staff were being forced to “make difficult decisions around trying to rationalise our time and space”.
Dr Eoghan Ferrie said it was becoming “exceedingly difficult” to follow infection control measures because of rising patient numbers in emergency departments.
“We are unfortunately having to manage patients in closer proximity to each other and to members of staff than we would like,” he explained.
Dr Ferrie also rejected widespread claims on social media and among the public that GPs are to blame for the pressures in emergency departments.
“The general consensus is, and the data would suggest, that our overwhelming demand is coming from the sicker groups of patients, and these are not people who the GP would be able to manage in the community. They need urgent, same-day assessment and often admission.
“We have been doing a lot of work with primary care about looking at opening up alternative options so that patients don’t have to come through emergency departments to access care. Some of those are starting to become successful.
“My view, and the view of colleagues, is that the sort of patients who are arriving at emergency departments from primary care referrals, they’re absolutely appropriate.
“There is not a feeling that there is a large number of patients accessing emergency department that could be dealt with elsewhere. They are also not the patients who are providing the main issue of crowding within an emergency departments.
“These are not the patients that end up en route to admission and waiting [in ambulances] for excessive periods of time.
“If someone does turn up and they have very low acuity, they are often dealt with very quickly and redirected to access the most appropriate part of the healthcare system.
“By and large, the pressures in the emergency departments are the very acute patients who need admission.
“These are not patients that GPs are equipped to manage at home or in the community.”
A further 1,931 Covid-19 cases and four deaths linked to the virus were recorded in Northern Ireland yesterday, with 287 people awaiting admission to hospital at noon.