THE number of people on hospital trolleys across Ireland will exceed 1,000 as winter sets in, doctors and nurses have warned.
There were 403 people on hospital trolleys in Ireland yesterday, including 31 at Cork University Hospital.
At the beginning of 2018, more than 700 people were on trolleys across Ireland, but health professionals have warned that the situation will worsen in the coming months.
President of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), Dr Peadar Gilligan, said the lack of emergency department resources, lack of beds, and lack of recruitment will combine to create a “perfect storm” in Irish hospitals.
The result will be 1,000 people on trolleys and a severely hampered health service, Dr Gilligan added.
“The IMO has long-warned that you cannot have a removal of resources without an impact on services. Successive governments’ lack of investment in our health service will be seen in hospitals across the country this winter.
“We will be told, in January, that it is a ‘flu crisis’ or a ‘winter crisis’. It is not. It is a failure of policy,” he added.
The winter will increase pressure on frontline workers, according to Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) industrial relations officer for Cork, Liam Conway.
“We came very close to the 1,000 threshold last year and it is a major worry that we will exceed it this winter,” he said.
“We’ve seen, over the past decade, the figures increase year after year, nationwide.
“We are very fearful, ahead of the coming winter period, particularly with the lack of a winter plan from the HSE,” he added.
“We know there are staffing deficits across Cork and Kerry, particularly in acute hospitals, and the INMO has been crying out for these to be addressed, but to no avail.
“Without the increase in staff, we can’t increase bed capacity and more patients will end up on trolleys, unfortunately.”
Mr Conway warned that the elderly may be particularly at risk in the overcrowded conditions.
“The lack of a winter plan from the HSE will bring about the next big scandal.” Both unions have called for major investment in acute beds and a recruitment campaign to attract more consultants and nurses to Irish hospitals.
The IMO has also called for widespread investment in general practice and primary care.
Meanwhile, the INMO has also hit out at the discrepancy between HSE pay and agency pay for nurses, with agency nurses receiving 20% more in wages for performing similar roles.
The union argued that this is further evidence that public-sector pay in nursing and midwifery is below the real market rate, which, in turn, is driving the difficulties in recruiting and retaining nurses and midwives in Ireland’s public health service.
Xtra Nursing Agency, which offers agency staff to the HSE, now pays an hourly rate at least 20% higher than that of the public sector.
Agency nurses and midwives are costing the HSE over €1.4m per week. The HSE uses agencies to cover staffing gaps in the health service — gaps created by low pay, according to the nurses’ union.
It was revealed, earlier this month, that 94% of the union’s membership voted to reject new pay proposals.