Stay at home if you are ill - health minister's advice amid hospital bed crisis
People who fall sick should look after themselves at home rather than going to already overwhelmed hospitals, Health Minister Simon Harris has said.
The intervention came as health chiefs took the unusual step of urging workers to take sick days if they have flu symptoms and for children to be kept at home if it is suspected they have flu as hospitals were hit by the worst overcrowding crisis on record.
The number of people on trolleys and chairs and lying in corridors waiting for a proper hospital bed in a ward has eased slightly with the number down to below 600.
But Mr Harris urged the public to heed the Health Service Executive advice on trying to stem the spread of flu and called for non-emergency patients to avoid A&E.
"I would appeal to everyone to listen to the public health messages of the HSE in the coming days and help our frontline staff by staying home if you're ill," he said.
Mr Harris apologised again for the unprecedented overcrowding crisis.
"I am committed to breaking the cycle of overcrowding in the health service," he said.
According to the latest report from nurses, there were 592 patients in queues in A&E departments and in ward corridors.
The Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation (INMO) said University Hospital Limerick had the worst record on Thursday morning, with 52 patients waiting for a bed.
Others with high levels of overcrowding included St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny with 46 people on trolleys; the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore with 37; and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, and the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, which both had 31.
The INMO said its headcount found 414 people on trolleys in A&E units and 178 waiting in corridors around wards.
Mr Harris held a meeting with hospital chief executives to discuss the overcrowding and the difficult conditions for patients and staff.
He said he stressed the importance of having clinical decision-makers in hospitals at key times to increase patient flow through the emergency departments.
"I also asked them to ensure all the beds that can be opened are opened, that the availability of diagnostics is increased and they continue to work to reduce the number of people who are in hospital, but could be discharged into the community," Mr Harris said.
He said all necessary resources will be made available to hospitals in the coming days and weeks.
The demand for access to hospital beds is traditionally at its peak in the first week of January, with the flu season compounding stretched resources.
The Irish Medical Organisation said that significant financial investment in hospital beds, GP surgeries and recruitment and retention of doctors must be at the heart of the Government's response to the crisis.
It described Mr Harris' commitment as worthless without simultaneous commitments from government for the money.
IMO president Dr Ann Hogan said: "T his is not a trolley crisis - this is a system in meltdown. No single measure will address the problem in any significant way. We have to tackle the three core issues at the same time to make any progress"
"Time for analysing the problem is over what we need is an increasing and sustained funding programme."