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Health service needs more beds - consultant

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'NATIONWIDE PROBLEM' Dr Lisa Cunningham.

Overcrowding concerns remain at MUH

Edwin McGreal

With 20 patients languishing on trolleys in Mayo University Hospital yesterday (Monday), a consultant in the hospital’s Emergency Department has said the key issue with the current overcrowding crisis is the lack of sufficient hospital beds.
Lisa Cunningham said that while much has been made of staffing issues, the key challenge is bed capacity with Ireland having 40 percent less hospital beds than the EU average.
“Compare it to a hotel which has 300 beds but 350 people looking to get in. It doesn’t matter how many more staff you bring in, you can only cater for 300 guests. The same applies. Extra staff can only do so much if we don’t have the bed capacity.
“For resuscitation the first steps are ABC – airway, breathing and circulation. For the overcrowding crisis, it’s ABC too – acute bed capacity.
“We managed to increase capacity during Covid with modular builds. Why can’t we respond like that now as well?”
She said the overcrowding crisis and the issues underlining it are being played out nationwide.
“Everything that is going on in Mayo is being replicated across the country. It is a nationwide problem playing out in hospitals like MUH all over the country.
“We have patients in the hospital beds who cannot get out into the community for a variety of reasons and then we have patients in the Emergency Department who cannot get onto wards,” she said.  
Dr Cunningham anticipates another issue arising in the coming weeks – failed discharges.
“This is where you might see hospital managements around the country trying to get discharge numbers up and people are discharged possibly prematurely and may have to be readmitted four or five days later,” she said.
Of the 20 patients on trolleys in MUH yesterday, eleven were on trolleys in the Emergency Department with a further nine on trolleys in other wards in the hospital.
It comes as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) considers strike action over the ongoing overcrowding crisis.
Many working in hospitals have echoed Dr Cunningham and cited bed capacity as being the single biggest contributory factor towards ongoing overcrowding.
The issues at MUH were pronounced in a December HIQA report.
MUH were found to be non-compliant in three areas, all relating to the Emergency Department. They were found to be non-complaint in terms of staffing in the Emergency Department and also with regards to ‘person centred care and support’, highlighting how overcrowding issues compromised the ‘dignity, privacy and autonomy’ of patients being ‘respected and promoted’.
In December, this paper also analysed the issue and heard staff in the hospital express serious concerns about the ongoing issue of overcrowding in the hospital’s Emergency Department and underlying causes of the issue.
They highlighted the need for more community services to reduce the number of people coming to the Emergency Department and better step down services to release people from hospital beds who no longer need acute care. This, in turn, they argued, reduces the likelihood of people languishing on trolleys in the Emergency Department and all the challenges that presents.
Last week, it was revealed that overcrowding numbers at Mayo University for the previous year had reached a record high.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMO) released their annual Trolley Watch figures which revealed that a total of 4,408 patients at Mayo University Hospital were admitted to the hospital without receiving a bed in 2022.
That was up an incredible 58 percent from the number in 2021, when there were 2,776 patients on trolleys, in of itself a record at the time since the Trolley Watch figures first started in 2006.