Hospitals in crisis — human rights issues emerging

Emergency departments around the country are reaching crisis point with patients being treated on trolleys reaching an unprecedented 500 on Wednesday.

Mayo General Hospital’s emergency department is no different with 19 patients on trolleys on Monday, 25 on Tuesday, and 32, out of 500 nationally, on Wednesday, the highest number ever recorded by the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives Organisation trolley watch statistics. This put Mayo General sixth on a list of 30 hospitals surveyed by the INMO. However, there was a reprieve in the situation yesterday with no patients on trolleys at Mayo General at 8am.

Minister for Health and Children Mary Harney previously declared A&E overcrowding a national emergency when INMO trolley watch figures reached 495 in 2006. Mr Hughes said that much of the progress made in recent years has suffered a set back by the combination of factors.

He added the situation in some of the hospitals is intolerable and that the misery being imposed on patients, and the staff trying to care for them, is shameful. The organisation, he said, is receiving, on a daily basis, accounts of very elderly patients waiting very long hours in appalling conditions, sometimes on chairs because there are no trolleys available.

Mr Hughes repeated the INMO’s call this week for a concentrated team approach to expedite discharges of patients for whom it is safe to do so in addition to government action on closed beds and staff shortages.

“The current crisis is likely to continue for the next two to three months unless action is taken now,” Mr Hughes added. “Politicians should pause in their preoccupation with the economic state of the country and address this human rights issue which is now emerging in our emergency departments. No civilised society can stand over the continuation of such cruelty while beds lie empty in some of the hospitals.”

The hospital issued a statement for the second week in a row advising the public that there was a high number of patients requiring admission to the hospital.

People who are attending the emergency department at Mayo General have been told to expect delays. Otherwise the public is encouraged only to attend the emergency department in the case of real emergencies. The HSE has advised people to contact their GP or GP out-of-hours service in the first instance. Despite the backlog all emergencies continue to be treated at the emergency department.

“Mayo General Hospital regrets that any patient would have to spend longer in our emergency department than they would like,” the statement concluded.

Dave Hughes, deputy general secretary of the INMO, called for government action to re-open closed beds in the hospitals affected by such overcrowding and to allow the HSE employ staff to look after the patients. Unfortunately there are no such beds in Mayo General according to the INMO, so how the situation can be rectified locally remains to be seen.

According to Mr Hughes, joint chair of the HSE’s Accident and Emergency Department Forum, there are four factors working in combination this year to make the current crisis worse than anything which has been experienced in emergency departments in recent years.

“The combination of the worst weather conditions experienced in Ireland for over 40 years, the unprecedented public finance crisis, the legacy of delayed discharge of patients, and the shortage of medical doctors, are all conspiring to worsen what unfortunately has become a regular feature of overcrowding in emergency departments in the busiest acute hospitals,” said Mr Hughes.


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