The Taoiseach has strongly criticised new figures showing that patients in Cork waited, on average, up to almost 22 hours to be seen in an emergency department last month.
HSE figures show that the average waiting time in an emergency department (ED) nationally in May was 11 hours.
Mercy University Hospital (MUH) recorded the highest average ED waiting time in the country, 21.6 hours, almost twice the national average.
Cork University Hospital (CUH) had the second highest average ED waiting time in the country, at 19.6 hours.
For patients aged over 75, the average waiting time in an ED in May was 13.1 hours. But, in CUH, people over 75 faced an average of 27.5 hours ED waiting time, while in the Mercy patients over 75 waited an average of 23.8 hours.
The HSE’s Emergency Medicine Programme for Ireland has a target that 95% of patients should be either admitted or discharged within six hours of arriving at an ED.
The HSE figures covering ED waiting times were released to Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane in response to written parliamentary questions.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said it is “quite simply not acceptable” that Cork patients are waiting an average of approximately 20 hours in emergency departments.
Speaking in Cork he said: “Those waiting times are not acceptable, quite simply, and the HSE are aware of that.”
He added that a meeting was held last week with the Cabinet Health Committee focusing on alleviating the pressure on hospital waiting lists, and emergency department waiting times.
He said that the HSE is “looking at governance issues across the region in respect of healthcare”, and that resources have already been allocated, and continue to be allocated, to increase bed capacity.
“There has been a significant pressure on hospitals more generally coming out of the Covid-19 situation, without question, and also in terms of emergency departments,” he said, adding that the impact of the pandemic on nursing homes has been an “unfortunate factor” in increased hospital waiting times.
“In terms of management of hospitals, one of the issues has been the degree to which Covid-19 has disrupted egress from hospitals,” he said.
Thomas Gould, Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central, said the figures painted a stark picture of emergency departments in Cork.
“The Mercy Hospital holds the awful title as the hospital with the longest wait in ED, almost double the State average, with people waiting a full day to be seen,” Deputy Gould said.
“The CUH unfortunately doesn’t fare much better, with an average wait time of 19.6 hours, the second longest in the State.”
He said that over 20 years ago a commitment was made that a new hospital would be built in Cork.
Pádraig O’Sullivan, Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North Central, toldthe HSE needed to address ED waiting times as a matter of urgency.
“There is a high level of vacancy in the HSE, and we really need to see an action plan that's going to target specific interventions to actually fill those vacancies,” he said.
A spokesperson for MUH said: “Mercy University Hospital Emergency Department continues to experience high demand for its Emergency Department services due to an increase in the attendances of acutely ill patients, in addition to caring for frail older persons with complex needs coupled with the challenge of managing Covid-19 presentations.
"The hospital has fully implemented its Escalation Plan to deal with the high number of attendees at the Emergency Department and the concomitant demand for inpatient beds. All beds are open and operational with additional surge beds opened. Where feasible other hospitals and community settings are being utilized for patient procedures and the hospital is prioritizing patients requiring urgent time sensitive care.
"The MUH ED provides care for a significant amount of patients, with in excess of 29,000 patients (including paediatrics) attending in 2021. MUH also operates the MUH Local Injury Unit on St. Mary’s Health Campus and an additional 16,512 patients attended this facility in 2021. The volumes of patients attending the ED have now in practical terms reverted to pre-Covid-19 levels however the care needs of the patients have increased significantly. Within the MUH ED patients present from across all age groups and with differing levels of medical complexity and psychosocial needs.
"A significant capital project is underway at the hospital which will deliver 30 new beds and 2 new surgical theatre suites incorporated into a modular build structure over 3 stories by year end. The addition of 30 extra beds in both single and multi-bed en suite bed rooms over 2 floors will facilitate essential hospital functions in terms of bed capacity and assist the hospital in disease management pathways and improved patient flow. In terms of ED performance, this additional bed capacity will help the hospital to manage overcrowding and appropriate patient flow through the ED and will also facilitate critical elective inpatient workloads. The hospital is actively recruiting the additional staff necessary to open these beds once the building works are complete."
A spokesperson for the South/South West Hospital Group said: “Patient Experience Time (PET) is the length of time a patient spends in an Emergency Department from the time they are admitted until discharge to a hospital bed or discharge home. The factors impacting on ED flow and associated waiting times are multifactorial including the volume of patients presenting to the Emergency Department at any one time, and the requirement to prioritise, treat and care for the sickest and older cohort of patients and those with life threatening illnesses.
"Inevitably this will cause delays for patients who will need to wait longer for their treatment while critically ill patients are being dealt with.
£Similar to other areas across the country, hospitals in Cork have been experiencing higher number of attendances and emergency presentations to both Mercy University Hospital and Cork University Hospitals are increased.
"Clinical teams have described increased attendance in the patients aged greater than 75 years, a particularly vulnerable group with clinicians advising these patients have increasing complexity in their care needs.
"Another factor influencing the movement of patients through the Emergency Department is the availability of inpatient beds within the hospitals for admissions, as well as the availability of beds in community setting when the acute episode of care has been completed.
"In Cork City bed capacity issues in particular are challenging, but locally both hospital and community services are working in an integrated approach to improve the flow of patients across the system, paramount to same is the safe discharge of patients who have ongoing care needs.”