More than 550 patients are waiting for a hospital bed today

The winter flu has contributed to current overcrowding, but the INMO says there's also a more permanent staffing shortage

More than 550 patients are waiting for a hospital bed today

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More than 550 patients are on trolleys again today in our country's hospitals.

The latest total of 551, shown in data supplied the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), shows the situation is worst in Letterkenny in Donegal where there are 43 people waiting for a bed in emergency departments or on wards.

That's closely followed by University Hospital Galway, where there are 42 patients waiting for a bed.

HSE figures, which do not include wards, show 421 patients on trolleys.

The winter flu is adding to the current overcrowding.

However, INMO General Secretary Phil Ni Sheaghdha says there's a more permanent staffing shortage causing problems too.

Speaking on The Pat Kenny Show, she observed: "We know there were 3,000 full-time equivalents down from what we were in 2007, just before the moratorium on recruitment & promotion was introduced. That was the biggest problem we ever had in nursing & midwifery.

"We're now playing catch-up. We estimate that our funded workforce plan, that we agreed with the Department of Health and the HSE last February, required an increase of 1,224 funded posts by December this year. 13 full-time equivalents were achieved by September, and we're awaiting the December figures. It's an absolute mess."

Speaking earlier, Health Minister Simon Harris observed: "It's very important that I say 2018 was not the year in which the challenges began in the health service, but it is going to be the year in which we bring forward a number of reforms that will improve our health service.

"I'm very conscious that our health service is still going through an extraordinarily difficult time. Whilst I'm extraordinarily frustrated at what is going on, I want to put all my energies into making sure we do break that cycle."

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty said that everything that can be done is being done to solve the hospital trolley crisis.

She noted: "The amount of beds that we have that can be opened, are being opened. 

"We're currently going through a recruitment process to get the staff to open [other] beds."