A leading Longford based medic has warned that the country’s national trolley crisis will only intensify unless the Government addresses hospital bed numbers.
Dr Padraig McGarry, who is also chair of the Irish Medical Organisation’s (IMO) GP Committee, sounded the potentially gloomy outlook as overcrowding at emergency departments continued apace this week.
And instead of pointing the blame at under fire hospital managers, Dr McGarry said the gradual slippage in hospital bed numbers was the root catalyst of the problem.
“Essentially what happens is a hospital is supposed to run at a capacity of 85 per cent in order to allow for planned procedures to take place such as gall bladders, hips and to be done,” he said.
“These patients are then given a date and that allows for surgery activity where there is capacity to take up extra calls for matters such as respiratory conditions that tends to affect the elderly population.
“But if you have an Irish hospital running at 97 per cent capacity that leaves no leeway for surgery activity.”
That insight came as the number of hospital patients stuck on trolleys on Monday fell to 466, down from a record high of 612 last week.
Despite that drop, trolley numbers locally have continued to flip-flop up and down.
At the Midlands Regional Hospital in Mullingar yesterday, 18 patients were recorded as being on trolleys, down 14 from the 32 that were recorded six days earlier.
Dr McGarry said an increase in population numbers alongside a greater cohort of people now entering the over 65 bracket were also contributory factors.
“Over the last number of years 1600 beds have been taken out of the hospital setting. If today you open up 1,000 new beds you would bring the current 97 capacity down to 85 per cent so therein lies your answer,” he said.
In delivering his potential solution, Dr McGarry quoted a recent remark made by Professor Patrick Plunkett, who recently retired as consultant in emergency medicine at St James's Hospital in Dublin.
“He (Prof Plunkett) said: 'You can’t fit a quart into a pint glass'.
“The reality is we are going to have an extra 20,000 patients over the age of 65 for the next 20 years.
“When you have a rising population and in particular an older population that’s rising and at the same time you don’t have the appropriate capacity what you have is the perfect storm.”
Equally, the Longford GP poured cold water on political calls locally for St Joseph's Care Centre to be used to ease the pressure on Mullingar, dismissing the notion as little more than “a soundbite”.