Ireland‘s hospitals are recovering from record overcrowding amid what the government has called a “perfect storm” of respiratory infections.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization (INMO) said on Wednesday that no hospitals were affected by the crisis and called for an “extraordinary response” from the state.
There were 838 patients on trolleys in emergency departments or rooms, the second-highest number after a record 931 patients on trolleys on Tuesday, the INMO said.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly will brief cabinet on Wednesday on a crisis he described as a perfect storm of flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and covid-19. He said the flu wave had not yet peaked and the crisis was likely to get worse before it got better.
Earlier this week, the Health Service Executive, who runs Ireland’s public healthcare, called on people seeking healthcare to “consider all options” before going to hospitals.
Patients have given harrowing accounts of waiting more than 12 hours to see a nurse or doctor in crowded waiting rooms, followed by days on carts waiting for beds. Overcrowding was particularly acute at Limerick University Hospital, Sligo University Hospital and Cork University Hospital.
Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO Secretary General, urged health authorities to immediately cease non-urgent activities and focus on emergency response. He also called for the return of mandatory mask wearing in congested settings.
“It is time for the government to call this what it clearly is: a total crisis. A crisis calls for an extraordinary response from the government and the HSE.”
Nurses had to apologize to patients and their families for the chaos, he said. “Our members are treating patients in the most undignified conditions. This is not the kind of care they should be providing in a country that has the resources to provide additional capacity and support.”
Peadar Gilligan, an emergency medicine consultant at Dublin’s Beaumont hospital, said patients were sitting in chairs in the nurses’ station or on trolleys in the assessment area and that overcrowding could lead to preventable death.
“Any place that is running above 100% capacity is not safe; and in Ireland now, it’s not as safe as it should be,” he said. told RTÉ. Gilligan said the acute hospital system needed 5,000 more beds.
A wave of respiratory infections has strained healthcare systems across Europe, and doctors in England say problems accessing NHS urgent and emergency services could be causing even 500 preventable deaths a week.
The taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said it was unacceptable to leave sick patients on trolleys overnight, but defended the Irish government’s record, saying that in the past three years the system has gained 1,000 beds and 6,000 doctors and nurses and improved access from GPs to diagnoses. “We have never had more resources than now.”
Chief Medical Officer Breda Smyth called on parents to keep children home from school and day care if they appeared sick. “Children should stay home for at least 48 hours after their symptoms have fully or substantially resolved.”