The hospital overcrowding is returning with doctors warning that patients are once again finding themselves waiting for care on trolleys in Emergency Departments.
It comes after a new study form the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found that the number of people attending Emergency Departments (EDs) fell by around 50% as the COVID-19 crisis took hold.
The study found that, by the end of March, there were no longer any patients waiting on trolleys.
On Newstalk Breakfast Dr Fergal Hickey from the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine said the situation has “changed markedly since.”
“During April and May numbers have returned much to their normal level,” he said.
“Now not completely, some departments are certainly seeing their normal footfall and others are seeing maybe 85% of their footfall.”
Figures released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) yesterday suggested there were 60 patients waiting for hospital beds around the country yesterday.
Dr Hickey said hospitals are still seeing far less patients in a number of categories – particularly children and people with sports injuries or injuries related to night-life.
“But I think what is important to understand is that we are now getting back to the worrying level we have been at before,” he said.
“We are already beginning to see the emergence of people on trolleys, particularly in Cork and Limerick – and that is indefensible in the current climate.”
He said the fall-off at the start of the pandemic was extremely worrying because anyone with a medical emergency should always go to the ED.
He warned however that the wider hospital crisis will remain for as long people are left with no choice but to go to the ED.
“The problem has been that when the ED sees somebody and they decide they need hospital admission, there is no bed for these people to go to,” he said.
“That is what has people on trolleys and that is the problem that needs to be fixed.
“These are people that might have back pain for six months or weight loss for over a year that do need to be seen and do need to be sorted out – but they need to be sorted out in an outpatient environment and that access is not available to them and that needs to be fixed.
“We want to be in a situation where there are fewer people going to EDs; that those going to EDs have an acute emergency and those that have gone there for want of alternatives find an alternative.
“The trolley problem is back and that is deeply worrying.”
The ESRI research found that the outbreak led to a reduction in ED attendances across all age groups; however, it was particularly high among young people.
It said the figures suggest people were scared to go to hospital due to fears over contracting COVID-19 or putting extra strain on the health service.
Research officer Aoife Brick said: “This data suggests that there are people who did not attend the ED following the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak in Ireland when under normal circumstances they would have.
“The public must be encouraged not to ignore symptoms and attend EDs when they need to.”
The ESRI said more needs to be done to reassure people that if they have a medical emergency, they should go to the Emergency Department.