This year has seen the highest number of patients on trolleys in any year since records began, according to a leading nursing union.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said on Friday that 108,364 people have gone without beds in 2019 so far – breaking 2018’s record high of 108,227, with a full month left to go in the year.
The union has written to the Health and Safety Authority and the Health Information and Quality Authority, seeking their intervention as it warns services have reached breaking point, invoking health and safety laws for staff.
The trolley figures count patients who are admitted to hospital but do not have a bed.
They are typically left on trolleys lined up in corridors or on chairs.
The INMO, which staged a historic strike this year in a row over pay and conditions, is calling for extra staffing and an increase in hospital, home care, and community capacity to deal with the problem.
The union said that in 2019 so far, the worst-affected hospitals are:
University Hospital Limerick: 12,810
Cork University Hospital: 10,136
University Hospital Galway: 7,409
South Tipperary General Hospital: 6,383
University Hospital Waterford: 5,875
Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin: 5,572
INMO general secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha said that as winter has only just begun and the record has already been broken, she forecasts serious issues looking into December.
She said: “These statistics are the hallmark of a wildly bureaucratic health service which is failing staff and patients alike.
“We take no pleasure in having to record these figures for a decade-and-a-half.
“We know the problem, but we also know the solutions: extra beds in hospitals, safe staffing levels, and more step-down and community care outside of the hospital.
“Five years ago, hospitals like Beaumont consistently faced the most extreme overcrowding problems in the country.
“They reduced that problem by adding beds and growing community care. Other services can do the same and must be allowed to do so.
“No other developed country faces anything close to this trolley problem. It can be solved, but a strong political agenda to drive change is needed
BREAKING: 2019 is *already* the worst-ever year for patients without beds in the Irish health service.— Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (@INMO_IRL) November 29, 2019
It's not even December, and we've today broken the record set in 2018. Shameful. pic.twitter.com/Ko2rkiVqgS
“The INMO has written to the health and safety authorities this week to try and force a change from the employers.
“Hospitals should be a place of safety and care – not danger.”
Trolley numbers this month were the highest of any November on record, the union said, and the fifth consecutive month to exceed records for previous years.
There were 522 people on trolleys across Ireland on Friday.
Trolley numbers and overcrowding issues in hospitals have been a headache for the Government for some time, with many calling for a complete overhaul of how the Department of Health tackles the issue.
One of the Government’s own TDs, Fine Gael’s Kate O’Connell, admitted in a recent committee that she was “embarrassed” at the “shocking” conditions of the emergency department at Crumlin Children’s Hospital as she waited for her child to be treated last Sunday.
“I was actually embarrassed as a TD to be there and I was afraid someone would recognise me, trying to keep undercover,” she said.
Fianna Fail’s health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said the Government must act to stem the crisis.
“We still have another 32 days to go until the end of the year so this is going to rise further,” he said.
“‘Cattle mart’, ‘war zone’, ‘bedlam’, ‘pandemonium’ – these are just some of the phrases used this week to describe the situation in EDs. What is the Taoiseach’s response? He ‘acknowledges’ the problem, he says ‘it is not unusual’, that ‘it often happens during the winter period’.
“Never before have there been so many people without a bed across the Irish hospital network. It is not normal and no amount of complacent words from the Taoiseach is going to make it so.”
A spokesman for the Health Service Executive said it regrets the fact patients are having to wait on trolleys.
He added: “Acute hospitals are continuing to see a year-on-year increase in the number of patients requiring treatment and care.
“The number of patients requiring transfer of care from hospital remains high today at 692.
“While this is likely to increase the waiting times in emergency departments for all patients attending, we would like to reassure patients that they will be seen and that, as always, the sickest and most seriously injured patients will be seen first.”