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Media Watch - Hospitals under pressure

Overcrowding in hospitals and the shortage of specialist nurses came under the media spotlight recently. Ann Keating reports

January 2014 started in the same way it has for many years, with high trolley numbers being reported in the media.

An editorial in The Irish Times (January 13) commented on ‘Patients on trolleys’. “According to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) the number of patients on trolleys across the hospital system has almost doubled in a week. There were 467 people waiting on trolleys last Wednesday, compared with some 245 on Thursday of the previous week and 205 on December 30th, the INMO’s daily ‘trolley and ward watch’ found.

“This annual hospital trolley crisis is not a recent development… Ireland has one of the highest bed occupancy rates among OECD countries, a statistic that invites hospital overcrowding.

“Apart from the obvious discomfort and inconvenience involved, the practice is dangerous. According to the Health Information and Quality Authority, there were instances of patients with highly infectious disease placed on trolleys in busy emergency departments.

“In addition it is difficult to effectively monitor ill patients in overcrowded conditions and even more of a challenge to resuscitate them properly. As illustrated by numerous reports, target-based healthcare may compromise patient safety. Hospital overcrowding must not be allowed to cause preventable deaths.”

‘Exhausted’ nurses are checking in to city A&E was a story carried in the Limerick Leader (January 11). “Exhausted emergency department nurses are ‘checking in’ to their own workplace as they struggle to cope with overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick.”

IRO Mary Fogarty said “she was aware of one young woman who needed to be admitted after suffering palpitations while on duty in A&E in the last week. There are significant wellbeing and stress related issues now affecting nurses.

“They are exhausted and facing complete and absolute burnout and we are very concerned about their health and safety of the patients”.

She said that “the patients who are coming – because they can’t go to Ennis or St John’s – to the emergency department are sicker than what used to be the case. They are too sick really to even be waiting in the emergency department and should be admitted straight away.”

150 nursing home beds to open was a headline in The Irish Examiner (January 10). “The HSE will next week open 150 nursing home beds to help alleviate hospital overcrowding and move patients off trolleys. The move comes after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation revealed that on Wednesday morning, 467 patients were being treated on trolleys.”

Shortage of specialist nurses
The Irish Examiner (January 11) reported on the shortage of theatre and critical care nurses – Nursing vacancies won’t be filled for a year – HSE asks international recruiters to fill 88 posts as operations delayed.

“A severe shortage of theatre and critical care nurses will not be alleviated for more than a year at best, health chiefs have admitted. The HSE has turned to international recruiters to fill 88 vacancies that are delaying operations and forcing the closure of intensive care beds. But because of the complications involved in finding and interviewing candidates abroad and awaiting their registration and relocation to Ireland, the positions will remain empty for at least the next 15 months.

“The new recruits won’t be in place until spring 2015 at the earliest the HSE said, blaming a ‘worldwide shortage of nurses with this specialist experience. Liam Doran said ‘a lack of forward planning by the HSE was the underlying problem... What’s being attempted now is a Band-Aid. The only way we will solve this problem is to grow our own and retain our own.

“‘Training places in these specialist areas have dried up in the last three or four years. There are around 25 places at the moment when there were 40-45 before. Because of the cuts to nursing posts generally, hospitals are also in a position where they say ‘we can’t release people to do the training because we won’t be allowed to replace them’.

“The result is all the acute hospitals are short of specialist theatre nurses, intensive care nurses and coronary care nurses. It’s not just one or two vacancies, there are hospitals with 12 vacancies.”

Typhoon Haiyan
The Irish Sun (January 2) had a headline – Typhoon nurse bid. “Nurses are hoping to raise funds to send Filipino colleagues home to work in areas destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan last November. The INMO wants money for trained nurses to spend a month in frontline hospitals at disaster-affected areas. Filipino nurse, Cres Abragan, said: ‘The effect was like an atomic bomb hitting the area.”

Mercy Hospital, Cork
The Evening Echo (December 21) reported on a press release issued by IRO Michael Dineen regarding a reduction in changing facilities for nurses at the Mercy University Hospital, Cork – A tight fit as nurses lose changing space at Mercy.

“Nurses at Mercy University Hospital (MUH) have been left fuming with hospital management after part of their changing rooms were sectioned off to be used for office space.”

According to Michael Dineen: “The facilities being provided for staff to change in are extremely cramped and overcrowded and are hopelessly inadequate, as they do not enable them to store outdoor clothing. These facilities are clearly in breach of health and safety legislation, they have consequences for infection control and are totally unfit for purpose.”

Ann Keating is the INMO media relations officer email: annkeating@eircom.net

Media Watch - Hospitals under pressure
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