'Record number of patients' made to wait for treatment on trolleys
More than 2,400 people spent time this week on a trolley or chair waiting for a hospital bed, nurses have said.
The first week of January, traditionally the worst days of the year for getting admitted to a ward, saw a 10% increase in the number of patients queuing for a proper bed compared to the same time last year.
The Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation (INMO) said its staff counted 2,408 patients on trolleys from Monday to Friday.
The number is 221 higher than the first week of 2017 and is a record high, the union said.
INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said talks with the Health Service Executive (HSE) on trying to ease the crisis overcrowding have been productive.
"We now have a clear focus on implementing patient flow measures," she said.
Following the talks the state's Emergency Department Taskforce will meet on Monday to set out immediate, medium and long-term practical approaches to the recurring problem of overcrowding.
The INMO had previously revealed a record number of admitted patients, 98,981, spent time on trolleys in hospitals during 2017.
The union said it wanted hospitals to be operating under the full capacity protocol and mandatory de-escalation policies in order to stop overcrowding spreading throughout hospitals and to reduce the risk of cross infection, poor patient outcomes and burnout amongst staff.
The INMO report on the first week in January was released alongside figures which showed hospital overcrowding had eased slightly by Friday, with fewer than 500 people waiting for a proper bed.
According to the latest morning headcounts in A&E units and corridors around hospitals, there were 483 patients on trolleys or in chairs queuing for space in a ward.
University Hospital Limerick had the worst record for the second day in a row, with 43 people waiting for a bed.
Others with high levels of overcrowding included St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, with 34 people on trolleys, the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, which had 33, and Cork University Hospital, which had 31.
The INMO said its 8am headcount on Friday found 351 people on trolleys in A&E units and 132 waiting in corridors around wards.
The latest figures were released following calls from Health Minister Simon Harris and the Health Service Executive for people not to go to hospital if they have flu symptoms, for workers to stay at home if they think they have the virus and for children to be kept off school if they are at risk of spreading the germs.
The flu season will run for another fortnight before it is expected to peak.
Meanwhile,the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's apology for the overcrowding reflected a shocking ignorance of health services and the impact of years of austerity.
IMO president Ann Hogan said his remarks were "particularly worrying" as he is a former health minister.
"Austerity is the root cause of this crisis and investment, significant and urgent, is the only response," she said.
Dr Hogan said the Taoiseach's promises of the crisis stabilising involves a 92% bed occupancy on average; a new norm of 500 patients waiting for admission on trolleys; and almost 700,000 patients waiting for an outpatient appointment; an ever-increasing number of cancelled operations and procedures; and a GP system which is struggling to meet demand.
She said: "Is that what is acceptable to the Taoiseach as stability?"