01 Oct 2022

'Bleak winter' warning as emergency wait times and hospital numbers grow

'Bleak winter' warning as emergency wait times and hospital numbers grow

Close to 25,000 people had to wait longer than 24 hours in an emergency department (ED) in the first five months of the year, latest figures show.

Figures also show that out of that number, 8,204 were aged over 75.

Overall hospital attendances have increased by 5pc in the past two years.

A statement from the Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that 2022 saw an "increase in ED attendances with a significant increase in the number of patients aged 75 and over attending EDs with complex care needs and often requiring admission to hospital for further treatment".

HSE Interim Chief Clinical Officer Damien McCallion, speaking on RTÉ News at One said overall hospital attendances have increased by 5pc since 2019. 

"We are seeing more people who are accessing care, perhaps who were restricted over recent years. We know general practice (GPs) in particular are very busy in recent times,” he said. 

"In our hospitals, they still have pathways for Covid and non-Covid patients and that impacts on the flow in hospitals number one, but there are also a number of other ways that, that impacts hospitals as well in terms of our utilisation of single rooms for infection, for people with Covid.”

"None of our hospitals want any elderly person, particularly at the most important part, potentially in their life in terms of when they’re ill, to have to wait for those sort of periods. From our perspective, that’s one of the key areas that we’re focusing on now in terms of trying to improve,” he said.

"We know that age is one of the factors in terms of impacting on health and that’s an area that all of our hospitals and our community systems will be focusing on as we move into what could well be a very difficult period of winter," Mr McCallion said. 

The INMO, in its latest Trolley Watch analysis, has recorded 9,961 admitted patients without hospital beds in June 2022. Among the 9,961 patients, 123 were children the INMO noted.

It expressed concern at overcrowding in hospitals. 

INMO Director of Professional Services Tony Fitzpatrick said: “The level of hospital overcrowding we have seen throughout this summer has been a cause of serious concern. Since the beginning of May we have seen 27,832 patients without a bed in Irish hospitals including 9,191 in July. The fact that 95 children under the age of sixteen have been without hospital beds in July should absolutely not be tolerated.

 “Unless we see a hospital-by-hospital plan to tackle overcrowding, we are in for a very bleak winter in Irish hospitals which will see nurses and patients in extremely unsafe circumstances.

 “We need to heed the warnings from our colleagues in Australia when it comes to mitigating the impact of both flu and COVID in Irish hospitals over the coming months. We cannot afford to have a COVID and flu ‘twindemic’ in Irish hospitals this winter. Vaccinations for both COVID and flu should be offered to healthcare workers as soon as possible.

 “Nurses and other healthcare staff cannot be expected to sustain this type of pressure right into the winter. If the Government and HSE are serious about retaining those who already work in the health service, meaningful action must be taken to ensure safe care conditions for both patients and staff. No nurse wants to have to care for patients in sub-optimal conditions,” Mr Fitzpatrick said. 

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