Ireland Experiences Worst Year on Record for Hospital Overcrowding

Ireland Experiences Worst Year on Record for Hospital Overcrowding

2019 was the worst year on record for hospital overcrowding in Ireland. That’s according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) whose end of year analysis shows that 118,367 patients went without hospital beds in 2019. The figure marks a 9% increase on 2018 figures.

Over 1,300 of the patients were children younger than 16. The worst months for overcrowding in 2019 were November (12,055), October (11,452), and September (10,641).

The INMO points to understaffing and a lack of capacity as key drivers of overcrowding.

There are 411 fewer inpatient beds in Ireland’s hospitals today than a decade ago, despite a larger, older population.

While hospital overcrowding is often a factor in the winter months, the INMO maintains it is a year-round problem in Ireland and has sharply criticised Ireland’s Health Service Executive (HSE) for its planning to combat the problem.

According to INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, ‘Overcrowding used to be a winter problem. Now it’s an all-year problem, which gets worse in winter.

The most frustrating part is that we know how to solve this problem: increase staffing and bed capacity, expand community care, and get going with the Sláintecare reforms.

Instead, the HSE continues to enforce its rigid recruitment controls, starving hospitals and community services of the staff they need. Our members are rightly appalled by the conditions they are forced to work and care for patients in.

2020 should be a year where understaffing and overcrowding are brought under control, but that simply won’t happen without investment and an end to the recruitment ban.’

Ireland ranked 22nd in the 2018 European Health Consumer Index. The Index compares health care systems based on a range of factors including waiting times, results and generosity. Switzerland and the Netherlands ranked highest while Ireland ranked lowest overall for accessibility.

The Irish Government launched Sláintecare in 2018 – a 10- year programme to transform Ireland’s health and social care services.

However, members of the Opposition have hit out at Government over their handling of the overcrowding situation.

Opposition party spokesperson on Health, Stephen Donnelly TD said, ‘Government spending on healthcare has soared from €12.7bn in 2015 to €18.3bn for 2020 – an unprecedented amount of money. And yet things are getting worse and worse, for patients and for staff.’

Deputy Donnelly said, ‘That trolley figures soar while attendance figures are the same as last year is really important. The government keeps talking about the service being ‘demand led’, implying that the trolley figures are simply due to more people coming to emergency departments. It turns out that this claim is bogus. Trolley figures are growing because so many parts of the system are under pressure – from general practice to emergency care to elective care to community care.’

He demanded that Government take immediate action to end pay inequality and recruitment embargos in the healthcare sector.

‘What is most frustrating is that the solutions exist, but the government refuses to use them, year after year. End new entrant pay inequality – not as part of some long drawn out negotiation, but now. End the hiring embargo for nurses and other healthcare professionals. Give GPs access to diagnostics. Open diagnostics in hospitals for longer than they are now. Increase home care packages so patients can be discharged.’

(Image by geralt via








Antoinette Tyrrell is a writer and journalist who started her career in print and broadcast journalism in Ireland. An English and History graduate of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, she worked for 11 years in corporate public relations for Irish Government bodies in the Foreign Direct Investment and Energy sectors.

She is the founder of GoWrite, a business writing and public relations consultancy. Her work has appeared in a range of national and international media and trade publications. She is also a traditionally published novelist of commercial fiction.

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