Pressure on hospital system as HSE prepares for St Patrick’s weekend

Latest trolley numbers indicate increasing demand while University Hospital Limerick suspends non-urgent surgeries

The hospital system was showing signs of increased pressure on Wednesday with one hospital cancelling non-urgent surgery and the HSE saying it was putting measures in place to deal with an expected spike in demand due to the St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Trolley numbers appeared to be climbing again after dipping from the record high seen in early January and the HSE said it was seeing increased attendance at emergency departments (EDs) by patients, many of whom were old and frail, while also dealing with respiratory illnesses that are still in circulation, and an increase in scheduled/elective care following reduced activity at the start of the year.

“Emergency Departments continue to be extremely busy and the HSE regrets that patients, particularly those who are non-urgent are experiencing long waiting times. Hospital teams across the country, together with the HSE national team are working hard to do all they can to reduce the length of time patients wait in Emergency Departments – particularly as we come in to what is traditionally a very busy weekend in our EDs,” it said.

The HSE’s CEO Bernard Gloster, together with senior colleagues from the HSE, ULHG and Midwest Community Healthcare met with the INMO this evening to discuss the challenges being experienced in Emergency Departments nationally - including in University Hospital Limerick.


Senior clinical decision makers will be on site at hospitals over the weekend and the HSE will continue to utilise private hospitals, nursing homes and other private facilities to ensure discharges for those deemed clinically appropriate, it said. It will also work with community services to discharge patients to a step down bed or facility or home.

“Over the St Patrick’s Day bank holiday weekend, which is always a busier time for our hospitals and emergency services, the HSE is encouraging the public to consider all care options before attending Emergency Departments. This is in order to protect our EDs for patients who need urgent and emergency care.”

University Hospital Limerick said it was cancelling non-urgent surgery due to “high numbers of inpatients and extremely high numbers of sick patients presenting at the Emergency Department.” It asked the public “to consider all available healthcare options, to help avoid long waits for assessment in the ED”.

A spokesperson said the pressure on the hospital continued on Wednesday with 252 patients presenting in the ED in the 24 hours to 8am. “Scheduled activity on all our sites remains under constant review by our hospital management.”

The general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said the latest hospital trolley figures showed overcrowding was “out of control once again” and that a national response was required.

The latest INMO “trolley watch” figures showed 651 patients had been admitted to hospital but did not have beds as of Wednesday morning, the highest level so far this month. On January 3rd last the figure reached 931 as pressure on the hospital service peaked due to flu, Covid and respiratory infections. On the worst day in February, the number was 663. The figure fell as low as 408 on March 3rd, before starting to climb again.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said the situation was worst in the Midwest, where overcrowding was “completely out of hand.” Targeted measures were required, she said, particularly in the Midwest.

“The INMO has been in contact with the new Chief Executive Officer of the Health Service Executive seeking an urgent meeting in the next 24 hours ahead of what will be an extremely busy bank holiday weekend for our members.”

The figures for Wednesday morning showed 116 patients waiting for a bed in University Hospital Limerick and 74 at University Hospital Cork. The next highest number was at University College Hospital Galway (52).

A spokesperson for the Dept of Health said it was working closely with the HSE to reduce the amount of time patients, and particularly older patients, spent in ED and was implementing reform across the health service to achieve this. “The plan will build on learnings from this winter and previous periods of peak demand.”

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent