THE so-called Winter Initiative published by Minister for Health Simon Harris has not come a moment too soon given the overcrowding of emergency departments so early in a winter when we haven’t experienced any major extremes of bad weather and winter viruses to date. In recent weeks, we have seen serious overcrowding at hospitals across the country, including Cork University Hospital, a situation described by Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (INMO) general secretary, Phil Ní Shéaghdha, as obscene: ‘Winter has not even started, and Irish hospitals are overwhelmed,’ she said.
For several years, the INMO has released its daily Trolley Watch figures and, on November 5th, reported 679 patients waiting for a bed – the highest amount so far this calendar year – across the country. The HSE's figures put the number of patients waiting for a hospital bed at 526 that day, with 278 waiting more than nine hours, but even its lower figure is totally unacceptable.
In the wider context, the 679 was the second-highest number ever recorded by the INMO; 714 on March 12th, 2018 having been the nadir. Whatever Minister for Health Simon Harris says they are doing about addressing the problem, it is obviously not working and the €26m funding provided in the current Winter Initiative needs to be put to effective use, because as Ms Ní Shéaghdha said, staff are faced with an inhumane working environment, while patients are put at ever-increasing risk.
The HSE reported recently that, by the end of September, over one million patients had attended its 29 emergency departments, 3% more than the same time last year. Almost 263,000 were patients admitted to hospital for further treatment and care.
But the question that needs answering is: have staffing resources been increased to deal with the 30,000 extra patients seen or has it just piled more pressure on existing staff?