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Emergency department overcrowding is the “new normal”

Overcrowding in Irish emergency departments is not a temporary crisis, but a “new normal”, according to a top medical consultant.

The remarks were made by Dr. Mick Molloy of the Irish Medical Organisation’s Consultants Committee, during an interview on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland.

“This is no longer a surge,” he said, referring to the high levels of overcrowded emergency departments.

“This is our new normal. This is the level of attendance across the country, it’s not one individual hospital.”

He said that some patients who had been on waiting lists for surgery for years had started to view emergency departments as a faster way to avail of treatment.

“They see the emergency departments as the only solution,” he said, adding: “If you’re waiting for two, three, four years for surgery, which hasn’t happened, a lot of people will turn up to the emergency departments and pretty much say they’re not going anywhere until they get admitted to have their surgery.”

“Now, add that we’ve got a rapidly ageing GP population and not enough people coming in to replace the GPs who retire, and the extreme difficulty there is with getting GP appointments at the moment because of the limited number of GPs and the capacity deficits.

“Again, the emergency departments seems to be the pressure valve in the system, so those who enter the emergency department don’t all need to be admitted. Of the 100 patients who come into the emergency departments, only about 20 to 22 of those need to be admitted to the acute system.

“We just don’t have the bed capacity to admit all those patients now.”

He added: “There were bed capacity reports done over two decades ago when the current Tánaiste [Micheál Martin] was minister for health, which promised an additional 5,000 beds by 2011. That has never happened.”

Molloy added that hospitals in Ireland are now operating “far in excess” of how they were planned, and the clarified that Ireland’s hospital system “wasn’t really planned” at all.

“It’s developed over the last 200 years,” he said.

“We’re now in a situation where the population demand is so much that the current bed capacity is insufficient to deal with the population we have.”

He said that “every single year” there was not enough hospital capacity for patients, adding that “it’s a year-on-year problem.” Molloy went on to claim that hospitals around Ireland are operating at 100 to 130% capacity daily, “which is unsafe, and people do die unnecessarily because of this.”

According to Molloy, the only way to solve the problem is to dramatically increase Ireland’s hospital capacity.

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