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breaking point Hospitals under pressure as 'historically high' number going to A&E

Pandemic combined with winter viruses hitting hard

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A patient is taken into the emergency department at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

A patient is taken into the emergency department at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

A patient is taken into the emergency department at St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. Photo: Mark Condren

Hospital emergency departments are creaking under high patient numbers, with winter viruses and the Covid pandemic heaping on pressure.

An Irish Independent survey has found that the majority of hospital groups nationwide are now reporting higher patient numbers than usual.

This is already leading to long waits for ward beds, with some hospitals now asking non-urgent cases to avoid A&E where possible.

University Hospital Limerick is among the hardest hit. It is experiencing a “historically high” level of A&E visitors, with 71 staff absent on one day last week. It was dealing with 41 Covid patients and eight of these were in critical care.

In Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, last month, there were 14 instances where patients waited over 24 hours for a ward bed.

The hospital said its emergency department was “very busy” in October, while it saw a 23pc increase in A&E attendances and a 7pc increase in emergency admissions.

This newspaper contacted the eight hospital groups, covering 29 emergency departments, to survey pressure on A&Es.

Six responded and flagged higher patient numbers, including two which requested those who have non-urgent health issues to first seek alternative care.

There are reports of older people seeking urgent medical care and children being admitted suffering respiratory viruses, including Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV).

Some hospitals have apologised to the public for delays as continued pressure mounts on the healthcare system.

A University of Limerick Hospitals Group spokesperson said it was managing a Covid outbreak in the hospital that has affected five inpatient wards and resulted in a ­hospital-wide visiting ban.

There has been a “high number of frail, elderly patients” along with a “notable increase in admissions of children with a range of respiratory illnesses, including bronchial conditions and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)”, a hospital spokesperson said.

The group is urging the public to “consider all available care options” before presenting to the emergency department.

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“We apologise to any patient who has experienced a long wait for admission to UHL during this period of exceptionally high demand for our services,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, in the Mater and St Vincent’s hospitals in Dublin, A&E departments have been “extremely busy with people attending for a range of complex and diverse treatments, including people coming in with symptoms of Covid-19”.

More than 5,500 people attended the emergency department at St Vincent’s in October and this number “continues to increase” as 1,182 people attended during the first week in November alone. There were more than 200 people in attendance on the busiest day that week.

The hospital said it is utilising its Emergency Department In The Home (Edith) programme for older patients in need of emergency treatment.

The Saolta University Health Care Group, responsible for Letterkenny University Hospital, Mayo University Hospital and University Hospital Galway, said its emergency departments were all “extremely busy with high numbers of people attending”.

“Many of the attendances are patients who are very sick and need to be admitted to hospital for treatment,” the group spokesperson said.

“There’s ongoing pressure on bed availability in the hospitals and every effort is being made to discharge patients who are ready to go home.”

As of 8pm on Thursday, there were 85 patients with Covid-19 being treated in the hospitals within the Saolta Group, with seven patients in ICU.

The group is asking patients to wait alone in the emergency department to “help maintain social distancing”.

South/South West Hospital Group, responsible for Cork University Hospital, University Hospital Waterford and South Tipperary General Hospital, is also “exceptionally busy”, a spokesperson said.

“It’s regrettable that some people attending an ED (emergency department) may experience a delay,” the spokesperson added.

St James’s Hospital in Dublin is also “experiencing an increase in those presenting to its emergency department”.

“Patients are treated as efficiently as possible but those who are triaged as less clinically urgent may experience longer waiting times.

“Patients requiring admission are referred to one of the inpatient teams for assessment. If admitted, patients are transferred to a ward as soon as a bed on an appropriate ward is available.”

The six hospital groups who responded to the survey are: Ireland East Hospitals Group, Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, University of Limerick Hospitals, South/South West Hospitals Group, and the Saolta University Health Care Group.

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