The number of adults waiting on trolleys in acute hospital emergency departments (EDs) on the morning of Boxing Day was nearly four times higher than last year, according to figures from the Health Service Executive.
The number of children waiting to be admitted to an inpatient hospital bed has increased fivefold compared to December 26 last year.
A total of 200 adults were lying in trolleys in the emergency department at 8 am on Boxing Day, 97 of whom had attended the hospital in the previous nine hours. The number represents a huge increase on Boxing Day last year, according to the HSE, when just 53 people were on trolleys in acute care hospitals. The 2020 figure was similar to last year, with 67 patients waiting on carts.
What happen with the kids?
The number of children waiting to be admitted to hospital beds this Stephen’s morning was significantly lower than the number of adults, with a total of 10 on trolleys across the three Children’s Health Ireland hospitals. Temple Street had the highest number with seven children waiting for beds, two in Crumlin and one in Tallaght. However, it was still a significant increase compared to last year, when only two children were riding in strollers at 8am on Boxing Day.
The number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients has also risen since Christmas Eve, with 656 confirmed cases in Irish hospitals as of 8am on Monday, compared to 626 on Saturday morning. Coronavirus hospitalizations have risen in recent weeks with Boxing Day figures representing a 76 percent increase on December 11, when there were 372 Covid-19 patients in hospital.
Overcrowding in adult and children’s hospitals is being driven by the rise in winter respiratory viruses, including coronavirus, influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). The HSE warned in recent days that it expected these illnesses to put “the greatest pressure on the state health service ever seen in the coming weeks.”
Health services face “enormous challenges” due to the continued rise in the number of respiratory illnesses and the subsequent rise in hospitalization rates, he said. “Based on our preliminary analysis, the HSE is concerned that we may see over 900 hospitalized patients with influenza in the first week of January and that number is likely to continue to rise through January. With regard to Covid-19 and other respiratory viruses, now we are seeing a greater number of hospitalized cases this winter than had been anticipated in our most pessimistic projections.”
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization (INMO) operates its own trolley count, but does not carry out the count on public holidays, including Boxing Day. However, a spokeswoman for the organization said the number of people waiting to be admitted was significantly higher than usual for the time of year and was likely to increase considerably in the coming days.
“We won’t have a clearer picture of what our members are facing until tomorrow. [Tuesday] or the next day, but we know that our members will be under great pressure over the next few days and weeks judging by the trends we have seen in the last week alone.”
The situation was entirely predictable, he said.
“INMO predicted in July, when we saw that the cars were higher than ever, that we were going to have a very difficult winter unless proper planning was done. We are seeing a knee-jerk reaction from the HSE now that they could have been planning more when they had the space to do so.”
The HSE has recently established a National Crisis Management Team to oversee the health service’s response to the increase in hospitalizations due to respiratory illness. The team is made up of senior leaders from the health services, including representatives from hospital groups and community health care organizations, and will provide nationwide support and guidance to the response of hospitals and community services across the country, said the HSE.