Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said overcrowding in hospitals could get worse and that in the coming weeks the HSE should urge senior medical staff, such as consultants, to come over at weekends to help ease the situation.
Speaking to RTÉ’s News At One, Donnelly said any increase in staffing levels would require senior decision makers on the ground.
He said: “We have to hire more people. Earlier this year, I sanctioned a big increase in the number of emergency medicine consultants. While we’re building that, because that takes time, there is an ask of consultants and appropriate medical staff to come in just for the next few weeks to come in at the weekends,” reports RTE.
However, Mr Donnelly said such staff were not required to do so under their current contract, adding that they “are relying on their goodwill”, reports RTE.
The minister said there had been “a very important reduction” in overcrowding figures over the past day, adding that “the best-run healthcare systems in Europe” were experiencing “very similar strains”, reports RTE.
He said it was “entirely possible” that the situation could get worse.
Mr Donnelly said the government warned of the situation several months ago, adding the HSE had secured 185 private hospital beds since last month to try to ease the crisis.
“The majority of those are being used. I met with the HSE team yesterday and made it very clear that we need to go further than that, we need to be more ambitious, and that the funding required is available to be used,” the minister said, reports RTE.
Referring to the prospect of a public-private hospital contract similar to that seen at the height of the pandemic to bring more beds into service, Donnelly said the HSE “was already doing that”.
Asked if he accepts that lives are in danger due to the overcrowding crisis, the minister said it was clear that overcrowding increases patient safety risks.
Social Democrat co-leader Róisín Shorthall said the Minister was “making comments across the airwaves is not doing the job properly”, reports RTE.
She said the minister, Department of Health officials and the HSE needed to meet and develop a plan to deal with the crisis.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime, Ms Shortall said it was “the worst emergency we’ve ever had in this country in terms of our health service” and it was “entirely predictable”, reports RTE.
Ms Shorthall said “is a need for an immediate response” and that private capacity should be looked into.
In a note, Mr Donnelly gave an overview of the measures currently underway to alleviate the crisis.
The Cabinet has learned that the number of over 75s reporting to emergency departments has increased by 15% compared to 2019.
The minister said he wanted to recognize the tremendous work being done across the country to get patients from ambulances to beds by this morning.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization said 838 hospitalized patients were waiting for a hospital bed this morning, up from a record 931 yesterday.
The hardest hit hospitals are University Hospital Limerick with 76 waiting patients, Sligo University Hospital with 65, Cork University Hospital with 62 and University Hospital Galway with 51.
Letterkenny University Hospital has 46 patients and St Vincent’s University Hospital Dublin has 45.
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