Record number of patients waiting on trolleys or chairs unacceptable - minister
Health Minister Simon Harris has said the record number of patients waiting on trolleys or chairs waiting for beds in hospitals is unacceptable.
Despite the headcount by nurses putting the figure at 656 - a level never seen before - Mr Harris said the crisis was a modest improvement on last winter when the 600 mark was also passed.
The minister also disputes the Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation (INMO) trolley watch.
He quoted a separate count by Health Service Executive (HSE) managers, which put the number on trolleys at 344 on Tuesday afternoon, and said it was the lowest numbers of people waiting for a bed at this time of year for three years.
Mr Harris said: "No effort or resource is being spared to improve this situation.
"We are entering a difficult few weeks and our health services are experiencing extra pressure because of the flu season.
Traditionally these weeks are always the busiest, and when you couple that with the current strain of flu and our growing and aging population these are very busy times for our hospitals."
Mr Harris added: "It is important to say that the figure is still very high and not acceptable, but it is a modest improvement on last year and the year before."
Measures to deal with the crisis have been stepped up, the minister said.
They include m oving patients between hospitals to make best use of capacity; i ncreasing consultant rounds to speed up discharges; more access to home care and transitional care; e xtending access to diagnostics and assessment units; and im proving patient flows and operational process to reduce patient waiting times.
Mr Harris said: " I would encourage everyone to follow HSE advice in the coming days and take steps to prevent the spread of the flu. I would also remind people that it is not too late to get the flu vaccine."
The INMO said its headcount showed the worst hospitals are St Luke's Hospital, Kilkenny, with 57 patients waiting; University Hospital Limerick with 55; South Tipperary General Hospital with 45; and Cork University Hospital with 38.
The INMO said 460 people were waiting on trolleys and 196 in wards waiting for beds.
January typically sees the highest numbers on the trolley watch as the flu virus peaks and leads to increased demand for in-patient services on the already under pressure hospital system.
Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fail health spokesman, said the numbers on trolleys a re a damning indictment of the Government.
"The figures released today are truly extraordinary and paint a very vivid picture of just how dire the overcrowding crisis in our hospitals has become," he said.
Nursing Homes Ireland said it estimates more than 1,400 beds are available to help with hospital discharges.
Tadhg Daly, the organisation's chief executive, said: "It is essential the capacity of nursing homes within the community is fully realised to facilitate timely discharges from our acute hospitals."
Dr Tom Ryan, president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, said the reason overcrowding keeps affecting the hospital system is because 1,400 beds were closed in the past decade.
"The shortage of beds, equipment and staff means that hospitals do not have the capacity to provide the care that the population needs and deserves," he said.