New figures released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) show that over 70,275 patients went without a bed in Irish hospitals in 2021.
The number of patients on trolleys increased by 31 per cent in 2021 compared to the first year of the pandemic.
The hospital with the highest number of patients on trolleys was University Hospital Limerick with 12,108.
The hospital with the second-highest figure was Cork University Hospital with 7,411, followed closely by Letterkenny University Hospital with 5,778, University Hospital Galway with 5,027, and Sligo University Hospital which had 4,284 people on trolleys.
INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said radical action is now needed to tackle the issue.
“The fact that we have seen the numbers of patients on trolleys rise by 31 per cent during the second year of a pandemic is completely unacceptable,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.
“Hospital overcrowding should never be acceptable, especially when we have a highly transmissible virus.
“Radical action is now needed to curb the unacceptable levels of overcrowding in our hospitals,” she added.
“This is not a new phenomenon; the health service cannot continue to make the same decisions year in year out and expect different outcomes.”
'Running on empty'
According to the INMO, there are a number of short term measures that can be taken to address the increased number of patients without a hospital bed.
The union has called for the care of sick non-emergency patients in the private sector to be increased, as well as an immediate review of pre-hospital and post discharge care to assist the pressures on acute public hospitals.
The INMO also said there needs to be an increase in the supports provided to nursing and midwifery led care in the community as well as full implementation and funding of the nursing and midwifery staffing review.
“We have a nursing and midwifery workforce that are running on empty,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.
“They are looking for some kind of indication from their employer that things will be different this year.
“The commitment nurses and midwives have shown especially in the last month with the arrival of Omicron has been exemplary,” she added.
“While many staff are on Covid-related sick leave, others are cancelling leave and staying longer than they are rostered to ensure patients are looked after.
“The INMO has raised red flag, after red flag with the HSE and Government. We need to see urgent action by curtailing all non-emergency activity in our public hospitals.”