Irish Medical Organisation

IMO statement on Emergency Dept overcrowding

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has launched a campaign to highlight how the shortage of acute hospital beds is causing chaos in the Emergency Departments of hospitals across the country. 

Dr. Peadar Gilligan, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Beaumont Hospital and Chairman of the IMO Consultant Committee made five key points:

  • Acute Bed shortage is root cause of overcrowding problem:

The shortage of acute beds in public hospitals is the root cause of the overcrowding problem in Emergency Departments.  Put simply there is nowhere for patients, who need to be admitted, to go and they are then left in an overcrowded, unsafe Emergency Department environment.

  • Overcrowding now a year round problem:

Overcrowding in Emergency Departments is a year round problem and it is inherently wrong to just focus on “Winter Initiatives”.  

  • Don’t divert public funds to private hospitals:

We must use taxpayers funds to improve our public health services, attempts to divert public funds to private hospitals is a failed policy that does little for our services in the medium to long term.

  • Stop cancelling elective surgery:

Continuing with the insane policy of cancelling elective surgery is increasing the number of patients who then move to a crisis situation and end up in our Emergency Departments.

  • Emigration of Irish doctors now a major issue:

Ireland must do better and ensure we have a highly trained medical workforce that is sufficient to meet the needs of patients.  Currently we have a situation of being unable to recruit consultants and our doctors in training are emigrating in greater numbers each year.

Dr Gilligan said that efforts to alleviate the problem which do not focus on the shortage of acute beds were little more than political PR initiatives which would have little impact on the plight of patients.   He said; “the Emergency Department crisis is a year-round crisis.  The notion of peaks in Winter that require special attention is mistaken.  Throughout the Summer, for example, Beaumont Hospital has had about 20 patients waiting for beds each day.  In other areas, the problems in Emergency Departments actually get worse during the Summer as the local population swells with holiday-makers. 

Dr. Gilligan said that Emergency Department overcrowding will not only continue but is guaranteed to worsen as long as the Government refuse to fund additional public beds in hospitals; “The problem is actually quite simple.  Our population is rising and we have cut 1,600 public beds from our hospitals.  That goes back to an ill-fated decision in 2004 to reduce the number of acute public hospital beds.  We’re still paying a price for that.  Put those together and a crisis in our public hospitals is inevitable.  Any attempt to deal with the problem which doesn’t increase the bed count is PR led not evidence based”.

Dr. Gilligan also criticised the use of public funds to pay for treatments in private hospitals (under the National Treatment Purchase Fund/NTPF).  He said the use of the NTPF diverts scarce resources to private hospitals.  Its counter productive and rewards the private rather than the public sector.

Dr. Gilligan also warned that demand for hospital space this year will rise in part because of the decision a year ago to cancel elective surgeries; “very often what might have been elective a year ago becomes critical now.  We warned last year that cancelling elective procedures would have consequences and those consequences will include increased demand in the coming months from patients who were not treated last year.”

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