Doctor says comfort packs 'normalise' trolleys

Items like eye masks and ear plugs have been given to trolley patients in St Vincent's Hospital

A new initiative has seen so-called 'comfort packs' being distributed to patients waiting on trolleys in St Vincent's Hospital.

Under a trial programme which began last week, emergency department patients at the hospital are being provided with a “comfort pack” that also contains a toothbrush and paste, water wipes and socks.

The packs are a mainstay of several UK hospitals under the National Health Service (NHS) - however, packs are only given to patients on wards.

Speaking to Jonathan Healy on The Pat Kenny Show, Dr James Gray, emergency consultant at Tallaght Hospital said he would be "very reluctant" to have anything to do with the initiative.

"Comfort packs have a place, but not in emergency departments, particularly emergency departments that are overcrowded," he said.

Dr Gray said patients are "languishing" on trolleys, adding that while the intentions of the comfort packs are good, they will inevitably normalise trolley waits.

"They create a tolerance around the culture of trolleys across the state [...] 350 patients die every year on a trolley. This is scandalous going-on. 

"The solution to the trolley problem is not comfort packs - it's providing beds, providing staffing for those beds, access to diagnostics and improving long-term care."

Figures

Today, 207 people in total are on trolleys across Ireland. A total of 94,000 patients were left to wait on trolleys in 2016.

This year saw the worst levels of over-crowding in hospitals since records began. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said over 36,000 patients waited on trolleys for an in-patient bed in the first third of the year.

The situation improved slightly in April when almost 7,200 patients waited on trolleys - a 12% improvement on April 2016.

The figures showed a continued drop in overcrowding levels at hospitals in Dublin – however, outside of the capital hospitals are facing significant increases.

The organisation’s general secretary Liam Doran said the key issue facing the government in terms of addressing the hospital crisis is the recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives.

“Without nurses and midwives, you cannot solve the problems of a health service and you will only solve the nursing and midwifery problem by once and for all dealing with the pay issue,” he said.

“Not putting it off until tomorrow - deal with it in the next three of four weeks when the public service pay talks begin.”