Emergency department overcrowding woes set to continue for weeks

The overcrowding crisis at public hospital emergency departments is set to continue for several more weeks due to the seasonal surge in demand for services.

The HSE West predicted this week that local hospitals, such as University Hospital Galway and Portiuncula in Ballinasloe, will continue to be under pressure in the weeks ahead.

The warning came in the wake of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO ) reporting that the level of overcrowding in the country’s casualty units reached a record high on Tuesday with 600 people on trolleys across the country.

There were 10 people on trolleys and five inappropriately accommodated in wards at University Hospital Galway and nine on trolleys at Portiuncula Hospital on Monday.

However, figures escalated on Tuesday with 17 people on trolleys and 11 inappropriately in wards at the regional hospital. Figures for the Ballinasloe hospital revealed there were 12 people on trolleys. The overall national statistics for the day represented the highest number of patients on trolleys ever recorded since the nursing union began its trolley watch initiative in 2004.

The nursing union is to ballot its members countrywide on industrial action because of what it terms the failure of hospital managements to address the “chronic overcrowding crisis”. This has “severely compromised care” and resulted in excessive workloads for nursing staff.

The local health authority attributed the ED overcrowing problem to a “seasonal surge in demand for services”.

It said a key factor is the older age profile of patients presenting and the complexity of their health issues.

In a statement a spokesperson said all hospitals, including Galway facilities, have put escalation plans in place to deal with the surge in demand.

“These include opening additional overflow areas, curtailing non-emergency surgery, providing additional diagnostics and strengthening discharge planning. Hospitals are currently taking these steps, as required, so that patients who need to be admitted to hospital are admitted to a bed as soon as possible.

“Among the key factors contributing to the increase in pressure within EDs is the older age profile of patients presenting and the complexity of issues they have. As a result, hospitals are experiencing delays in discharging these patients home or to other appropriate settings.”

The statement outlined that the HSE received an additional allocation of €3m in December to enable the release of 300 additional Fair Deal [nursing home support scheme] approvals immediately to allow hospitals begin to address the delayed discharge issue.

“The pressure on emergency departments seen in recent weeks is likely to continue in the weeks ahead as the seasonal surge in demand continues. The numbers of patients on trolleys is higher than the same time last year and it is for this reason that Minister Varadkar recently convened the emergency taskforce.

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