A children’s unit at a major Dublin hospital has been reassigned to adult patients in an effort to deal with the ongoing overcrowding crisis.
The Paediatric Observation Department (POD) at Tallaght Hospital has been closed off to children as doctors attempt to deal with an “unprecedented increase” in adult admissions and attendances
The first dedicated unit of its kind in Ireland, the department is normally used to assess children with acute illness or injury for up to eight hours in an effort to avoid unnecessary admissions to the hospital.
This evening, the Taoiseach insisted the government is taking action to address the crisis.
INMO figures show 544 patients were waiting on a bed in hospitals across the country today, a slight drop from 555 yesterday.
The HSE say the current flu season is adding to the problems - almost 20,000 people had it last week and it's not set to peak until next week.
Leo Varadkar said authorities will do all they can to fix the problem:
"I certainly don't want anyone to face the indignity or the risks that come with prolonged trolley waits in our hospitals," he said.
"The Minister for health and his team are doing everything they can to alleviate the situation and we have given him authorization to continue increasing the number of beds in our hospitals.
"Also we have asked him to particularly focus on making sure that best practice is maintained across our health service."
Limerick University Hospital reported 53 patients waiting on trolleys while the University Hospitals at Galway and Cork reported 37 and 35 patients respectively.
Tallaght Hospital has seen a 12% increase in the number of people attending the Emergency Department – with demand for beds up 25%.
There were 29 people waiting on trolleys at the hospital this morning.
In a statement, the hospital said there were no children among those waiting on trolleys. It said the reassignment of the POD was a “temporary measure,” adding that it was “unfortunately necessary as all adult escalation areas and beds are in use.”
It said the beds will revert to paediatric use when possible and apologised to patients for “any delays they may experience during this busy period.”
Speaking last night the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted that the need to open additional hospital beds around the country was “indisputable.”
Meanwhile, the HSE has said it is unacceptable for elderly patients to be waiting for hours on trolleys - but insisted it is doing everything it can to cope with the surge in Emergency Department attendances.
The health service has blamed the high numbers of patients on trolleys on the flu outbreak - and on our ageing population.
An estimated 18,000 – 20,000 thousand people had flu last week, and it is expected to peak this week or next.
Damien McCallion, who heads up the HSE Winter Initiative, said it is unacceptable that elderly patients have been waiting for hours on trolleys:
Elective surgeries have been curtailed as hospitals struggle to make beds available- but the HSE has said most hospitals hadn’t scheduled these anyway, in anticipation of the January rush.
Liam Woods, HSE national director of acute hospitals is not happy with their performance:
"We have seen a spike in the incidence of flu that is causing a spike in attendance right now," he said. "That is the nature of the condition"
"We can't do anything last week to affect that. That is happening within the system and hopefully it is peaking this week and will begin to abate somewhat.
"But you are absolutely right in saying that our elective and our surgical capacity clearly is not doing what we would like to to be doing in these early weeks."
Funded workforce plan
As part of the Funded Workforce Plan agreed between the INMO and the Government last year, an additional 1,224 nurses were due to brought into the Irish health service by 2018 – thus providing enough staff to open beds to deal with the winter season.
The INMO has said that – as of September – only 13 additional hires had been achieved, with the figures for December not yet available.
The union has consistently warned that that medical staff will not be tempted to return to Ireland until the pay and conditions on offer are improved.