Pressure on hospitals eases as HSE makes preparations for busy St Patrick’s weekend

Trolleys on wards is completely contrary to best practice, says head of Nurses and Midwives organisation

The number of patients waiting for a bed in the hospital system eased on Thursday as the health service continued to prepare for an expected spike in demand during and immediately after the St Patrick’s Day weekend.

The number of adults and children who had been admitted to a hospital but were awaiting a bed dropped to 553 on Thursday morning, from 651 a day earlier, according to figures released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO). The Wednesday figure was the highest recorded so far this month.

At University Hospital Limerick, which accounted for 116 of those waiting for a bed on Wednesday morning, the number of patients waiting for a bed dropped to 101.

Speaking on the Today with Claire Byrne show on RTE radio, the general secretary of the INMO, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said the high number of patients on trolleys was a cause for concern as the holiday weekend was approaching.


“We know that going into bank holiday weekends, our services get much busier,” she said. “But going in with over 117 patients on trolleys as Limerick Hospital was facing yesterday, just simply means there isn’t a possibility of care that could be described as safe.”

On Wednesday, the CEO of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Bernard Gloster, met with the INMO, hospital representatives and others to discuss the situation at University Hospital Limerick as well as the pressures being experienced in emergency departments nationally.

“The meeting was very productive and focused, with a recognition by all that there was significant challenges and hard work by many to mitigate the impact for public and staff,” the HSE said in a statement.

Hospital and community teams are working to identify patients who can be discharged so as to free up beds and the HSE has asked that, given the likely pressures over the St Patrick’s weekend, that people consider all care options before deciding to attend at hospital emergency departments.

Of the 553 people waiting for a bed on Thursday morning, 415 were waiting in emergency departments and the rest on trolleys in wards.

Putting trolleys on wards was completely contrary to all best practice, Ms Ni Sheaghdha said. The entire process of how patients were admitted and discharged needed to be examined so that hospital beds were better utilised.

“Nurses are reporting to us that not only are people on trolleys, people are deciding to leave before they’re seen because of the long wait times. That should be a real warning red flag to the HSE. That’s a very dangerous situation. People who are sick enough to present or may have been referred to by a GP who decide, ‘I can’t wait after 10 hours, I’m going home’.”

INMO members were saying that it was not possible to provide a level of care that was safe and up to the standards that they believed patients deserved, she said. It was important that staff working in emergency departments over the bank holiday weekend were supported by managers and senior clinicians.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

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