Number of patients on trolleys remains over 600

Minister for Health Simon Harris says staffing is a "legitimate issue"

INMO, trolley, patients, University Hospital Limerick, St Vincent's University Hospital

Empty hospital beds in a corridor | Image: RollingNews.ie

The number of people on trolleys in hospitals around the country is 602 - a drop of just ten people since yesterday.

The highest number of patients on trolleys is in University Hospital Limerick (UHL), with 66 people waiting for a bed on a trolley or on a ward.

In a statement yesterday, UHL said it has 400 inpatient beds which are recognised as "not being sufficient for the needs of the midwest region".  A bid to build an additional 96 bed block on the UHL site has been submitted to the Department of Health and the hospital is awaiting approval of funding.

"In the long term these additional beds are required to address the deficit in acute bed capacity in the region," the statement reads.

Staff issues

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said staffing is a "legitimate issue" in response to the apparent trolley crisis.

The daily count hit a record high of 612 yesterday and Mr Harris has said he will meet management in the health service for a further update tomorrow.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, the Minister said his department is aiming to hire 1,000 extra nurses in 2017 to cope with the demand.

"I think staffing is a legitimate issue", he said. "The data available to me does show that some beds are closed because we don't have an adequate number of staff.

"We did lose a significant number of nurses during the crisis when people simply couldn't get jobs in this country. We're working at attracting them back."

In UHL's statement, the hospital addressed the issue of under-staffing confirming 15 beds are temporarily closed in St John’s Hospital Limerick while recruitment to fill vacant nursing posts is underway.

Flu vaccine

There were 9 confirmed cases of seasonal influenza in UHL yesterday, and visitor restrictions remain in place at the hospital. No new figures have been released for today.

Since the 1st of December 2016, there have been 66 confirmed cases of seasonal influenza at the hospital in Limerick.

Mr Harris said he is also considering making the flu vaccine mandatory for health workers, as he is disappointed with the uptake levels within the sector.

Less than 20% of nurses have availed of the vaccination, despite flu and respiratory illness rates doubling in the last two weeks.

"There's an onus on all of us working in the health service, because not only does it keep us well, it also obviously limits the chances of us carrying it and impacting on a patient,

"We do make it mandatory for some vaccinations [...] I would rather it was done in cooperation but if the uptake is so low it's something we will have to look at in the future."

He urged those over 65 and within at-risk groups to avail of the vaccination, which is still available in pharmacies and at GPs.

INMO representative and nurse Mary Fogarty insisted on Newstalk Breakfast that staff vaccination rates aren't a major factor in the current crisis.

"We would encourage all of our members to take the flu vaccine when it's offered, but to be fair it is not a significant issue when it comes to overcrowding in our hospitals," she said.

Political reaction

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said in the situation was "utterly unacceptable".

"All the while, the Minister for Health Simon Harris has persisted with peddling the line that the situation could not have been predicted. Such a proposition is nonsense", he said in a statement. "It has been clear for months now that this winter was going to see the health service at crisis point.

"I told the Taoiseach as much in October when he and his Ministers made grandiose claims about an increase in the budget for the health service - pronouncements that were deceptive and grossly exaggerated.

"It is abundantly clear that the government has no plan to deal with this escalating crisis and no strategy that will reassure overworked staff that this will not be another year of unacceptable overcrowding, and most importantly, they have no plan to reassure citizens that they will be treated safety in our hospitals."