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Last month’s overcrowding figures were at an 18 per cent increase over the numbers taken last January, which themselves were a record high, and is a 128 per cent increase on the numbers recorded in 2007.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) ‘Trolley Watch’ figures, a “barometer” of the state of overcrowding in our hospital services, have shown that 12,201 people were waiting on trolleys in Emergency Departments (EDs), or on additional beds placed throughout hospitals, during the first month of the new year.

The most overcrowded hospital in the Eastern region was St Vincent’s University Hospital  (559 people), while 1,003 were recorded for the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, which was the highest outside of Dublin.

Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin and National Children’s Hospital, Tallaght recorded an additional 192 children, waiting on trolleys during January.

The General Secretary for the INMO, Phil Ni Sheaghdha, stated: “This is an incredible level of overcrowding and the appalling conditions experienced in Emergency Departments are now beyond anything we have ever seen. It now amounts to a humanitarian crisis for patients and a risk rich environment for those trying to work in such chaotic conditions”.

An agreement was previously reached between the employer with the INMO in February 2016 that when one-third of ED trolleys were occupied by in-patients, this would act as an indicator that action would need to be taken to protect the health and safety of staff.

Ms Ni Sheaghdha continued: “Health employers have completely fallen down on their statutory obligation to provide a safe place of work”, pointing out that Section 8 of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act requires employers to carry out risk assessments and put in place mitigating measures to avoid those risks and also highlighting Section 11, which specifically describes the duties of the employer in relation to emergencies and serious and imminent dangers to their staff.

Ms Ni Sheaghdha said “There was no evidence that any of the employers concerned have carried out risk assessments in any of the hospitals or Emergency Departments experiencing such overcrowding. INMO members cannot be expected to tolerate such appalling and dangerous working environments and, at this point, many members of the public are openly asking the nurses how they could tolerate such a situation.

“It seems to us that all standards with regard to fire safety, personal protection, infection control and hygiene have gone out the window and no statutory authority or employer is prepared to look in.  In those circumstances the INMO will have to take the necessary steps to protect the safety, health and welfare of our members”, she warned.

“INMO representatives from all Emergency Departments have been convened for a meeting on Tuesday next to consider the crisis situation and how the organisation can best respond to it. Nurse Representatives from all over the country will participate in the meeting and it is expected that the INMO will face calls for action to defend their members and the public”.