Patients and staff enduring ‘pretty awful conditions’ in some EDs, says HSE chief

Demand for services in EDs rose 12% in early part of year

Patients and staff are enduring “pretty awful conditions” in emergency departments around the country but progress is being made on trolley numbers despite another increase in demand, the HSE chief executive has said.

Speaking at the the Irish Medical Organisation’s AGM in Killarney, Bernard Gloster said demand for services in emergency departments increased by 12 per cent year on year in the first quarter.

However, he said trolley numbers were down by 10 per cent across the board, though he acknowledged there were still persistent problems at some locations, particularly University Hospital Limerick (UHL).

Mr Gloster said that of the 29 hospitals monitored on a daily basis for waiting times and trolley numbers, five accounted for more than half of the total.


“Limerick is by far and away the most significant of that,” he added.

He said the situation at UHL should be improved by the provision of new beds, which are due to come on stream in 12 weeks, combined with action by the hospital’s management.

“We would expect that that, along with the acute medical assessment units opening for longer hours, along with the additionality of what the public-only consultants’ contract can bring in terms of rostering, we would expect to see inroads being made into the challenges at the emergency department.”

Mr Gloster said efforts to address overcrowding at the hospital had been hindered until now by a “much lower” uptake by consultants of the new public-only contract. He said existing staff had worked very hard in challenging conditions, but more flexibility was required if significant improvements were to be achieved.

“We’re not looking for people to work more than the hours they are supposed to work but what we do want to see is consistency in the use of the contract, which is intended to ensure that we get a better spread of decision-making across the length of the day and on into the weekends, particularly Saturdays.”

Asked about the HSE’s ongoing recruitment freeze, after both consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) at the conference passed motions calling for its immediate abandonment, Mr Gloster declined to say how long it would have to be maintained.

The HSE, he said, is working to establish how many staff it will require when its restructuring is complete, after which recruitment will be more settled and transparent.

“What we will have in the future is a funded workforce and we will have to live within that. When we reach that limit then we automatically will have to pause,” he said.

“And within that context, then we will be able to recruit in a way that’s much more understandable to people rather than this very binary position of pause or no pause.”

In the meantime, he said, there were a number of exemptions from the freeze and numbers had grown during the first two months of this year.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times