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The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s (INMOs) trolley count this morning indicated an increase in hospital overcrowding from yesterday’s figure of 21.

Dublin hospitals, particularly St. James’s, and Tallaght Hospitals, had a significant overnight increase of 28 and 23, respectively.

Hospitals in Mullingar and Tullamore reached figures of 38 and 42 respectively, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, also had a high figure of 26, while St. Luke’s Hospital Kilkenny and University Hospital Limerick were at 54, at 53, remaining the highest hospitals with patients on trolleys.

For the second year running, the INMO trolley and ward watch figures heading into the final weekend of the year recorded over 300 patients waiting on trolleys or on additional beds in wards of our busiest hospitals.

Overall in 2017, 98,981 admitted patients were recorded to have been awaiting a hospital bed, University Hospital Limerick topped the list with the highest annual number of 8869.

Cork University Hospital and University Hospital Galway recorded 6815 and 6563 respectively, while the Mater University Hospital in Dublin was the capital’s most overcrowded hospital with 5238 patients on trolleys during 2017.

Smaller hospitals such as Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan increased from 595 in 2016 to 2435 in 2017 and Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe recorded 1569 trolley figures compared with 892 in 2016.

Commenting on these overcrowding numbers, the newly appointed General Secretary of the INMO, Phil Ni Sheaghdha, demanded an explanation from the HSE in relation to how the predictable increases in Emergency Department (ED) admissions remain outside of the scope of hospitals to manage and control: “Overcrowding in late December and early January is getting worse. Despite investment in winter plans, smaller hospitals are now severely overcrowded which is manifestly unsafe and leads to higher cross infection and poorer outcomes for patients.

“Nursing staff, constantly working in this high pressure, unsafe environment, cannot be expected to put up with this obvious neglect of duty of care to them and the patients they try to care for any longer. It appears to me, that staff and patients, on the front line, were abandoned while the system shutdown for Christmas and the New Year”.

Ms Ni Sheaghdha, who takes over the role of Co-Chair over the HSE Emergency ED Task Force, continued: “Our figures show that on December 28th and 29th, 11 of the 29 hospitals used their full capacity protocol and placed additional patients on wards.

“Under HSE policy, the Joint Chairs of the Task Force must be notified in advance of use of Full Capacity Protocol. I can confirm that no notification was provided, by any hospital, to me and that is proof enough to demonstrate an abandonment of the system for dealing with overcrowding”.

The organisation has sought an emergency meeting of the ED Taskforce and is awaiting confirmation from the HSE that it will take place ove the next few days.

In light of the INMO receiving a number of distressed calls from members who describe intolerable working conditions and inhumane conditions for patients, Ms Ní Sheaghdha, said: “It is clear that a national emergency is now in place and certain locations simply cannot cope. These record numbers are unacceptable. It is intolerable for both patients and staff endeavouring to provide the best care possible to them”.

Ms. Ni Sheaghdha warned: “There is ample evidence which confirms that high ED occupancy is associated with increased in-hospital mortality following admission from overcrowded EDs.  Evidence also confirms that patients, admitted through overcrowded Emergency Departments have longer hospital stays.

“An increase in a nurse’s workload, by one patient, increases the likelihood of an inpatient dying within 30 days of admission by 7 per cent. High levels of burnout have been reported amongst nurses working overcrowded environments”, she concluded.