Emergency measures that are seen as the last resort to deal with emergency department (ED) overcrowding have been implemented in Cork University Hospital almost six days a week this year.
Full Capacity Protocol (FCP) measures, which are only supposed to be implemented in exceptional circumstances, has been in place at CUH 137 times so far this year, according to HSE figures obtained by Sinn Fein.
CUH hospital consultant Dr Conor Deasy told The Echo that the measures see wards taking on extra patients on trolleys to create space in the emergency department and to allow sick patients to be taken off ambulances.
He explained that the use of FCP means that the hospital has run out of staffed beds due to inadequate capacity and the fact that many hospital beds are taken up by delayed discharges as people await community care.
Just last week, Dr Deasy said that the death toll from overcrowding in Irish hospitals is more than 300 a year.
The ED consultant was responding to new figures that revealed 834 people were waiting on trolleys at CUH last month, the worst June on record.
There were 60 patients awaiting a bed at the hospital yesterday.
Cork South Central TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (SF) said the frequent use of the FCP protocol at CUH indicates that the health service cannot function properly.
He added that the hospital is “beyond crisis point”.
“Full-capacity protocol is a hospital’s highest level measure for dealing with emergency department overcrowding.
“In a properly functioning health service, it should be implemented only in exceptional circumstances,” said Deputy Ó Laoghaire.
“That it was invoked 137 times in Cork University Hospital so far this year is unacceptable and a signal of a health service beyond crisis point, for patients and staff.”
He explained that the protocol involves much of the hospital’s normal activity being suspended to accommodate patients, with people moved onto wards and hallways outside the emergency unit and, in some cases, elective surgeries being cancelled.
“The situation puts huge pressure on patients and their families and it puts huge pressure on staff in our hospitals,” said Deputy Ó Laoghaire, adding that staff are overworked and short-staffed.
“The only way to combat overcrowding is to invest in, and expand, primary care, increase the capacity of our hospitals, and hire more staff, none of which this government has prioritised in any meaningful way,” he said.
Phil Ní Sheaghdha, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, recently said that summer 2019 is as bad as winter was five years ago.
“Under-staffing is driving year-round unsafe conditions.
“The government and HSE need to get a handle on this problem,” she added.