Harris cancels St Patrick's Day tour over ongoing trolley crisis

The IMO has criticised the Taoiseach's comments on the crisis

Harris cancels St Patrick's Day tour over ongoing trolley crisis

The Minister for Health Simon Harris speaks outside Government Buildings in Dublin, 07-03-2018. Image: Leah Farrell

The Minister for Health has cancelled his St Patrick’s Day trip to Belgium and the Netherlands due to the ongoing hospital trolley crisis.

The number of patients waiting on trolleys eased slightly today after yesterday’s record high of 714.

However there was little sign of the crisis abating, with 649 people on trolleys and wards this morning according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

In a tweet this evening Health Minister Simon Harris said it wouldn’t feel right to travel during what is a “difficult week.”

The HSE has pointed to backlogs caused by Storm Emma as well as a longer than expected flu season as reasons for this year’s extended overcrowding crisis.

The numbers waiting on trolleys today dwarf the 392 patients waiting for treatment this time last year.

Continuing crisis

However, health experts are warning that the three short weeks around St Patrick’s Day and Easter could compound the situation.

Emily O’Connor, president of the Irish Association of Emergency Management said increasing bed capacity in the short-term is essential:

“If we want this to be hugely improved or significantly improved by next winter, we need to Government now to actually put extra beds in to the system,” she said.

“Be they in modular units; be they in pre-fabricated builds that needs to be started now.

“Once we have a commitment to, let’s say, 500 or 1,000 beds being produced now - then we can start perhaps incentivised recruitment drives to get doctors and nurses to work in these units.”

"Not entirely clear"

This evening, the Irish Medical Organisation expressed its surprise over the Taoiseach’s comments on the crisis.

Speaking in the US last night, Leo Varadkar said it was “not entirely clear” why the situation had deteriorated so far this year.


IMO vice president Dr Peadar Gilligan the root causes of the problems are well known and the solutions obvious. 

“There is nothing surprising about what is happening,” he said.

“It is the inevitable outcome of years of cuts and austerity in health services and, until those cuts are reversed, the situation will deteriorate and worsen.”

He pointed to three main issues facing the service: 

  • Insufficient beds to meet patient demand in the acute sector and in the community
  • Too few consultants to deliver a consultant delivered service
  • A GP service that is not resourced to deal with complex care 

“The Government’s own Healthcare Capacity Report clearly indicates that the level of beds is woefully inadequate to meet our population needs,” said Dr Gilligan. “We know we have too few doctors delivering care in our public health services yet the Government keeps on producing reports to tell us what we already know.”

“Healthcare costs money and Government must face up to its responsibilities.

“It cannot continue to promise better services while at the same time refuse to fund them.”