The most important point in the motion is the need to immediately provide beds and increase the number of front line staff to deal with overcrowding in our hospital emergency departments. The point has been made over and over that the Government and the HSE expected that this deplorable overcrowding would happen. We have to ask why there was not adequate preparation for this.
I would like to talk about Galway where the HSE itself talked about the unacceptable and growing concern about University Hospital Galway. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation announced that its members are to be balloted on possible industrial action. We met the nurses outside the House today and they talked about the excessive workloads at the city’s public hospitals. It made that statement after the INMO reported a record 563 people on trolleys in hospitals across the country. According to the INMO trolley watch survey, last week there was the record high figure of 601 people on trolleys. I know there has been some dispute as to how these figures are arrived at but I am sure we all agree the figures are far too high.
The INMO has stated very clearly that the conditions for staff and patients have reached an “intolerable and grossly unsafe” level. One of the spokespersons said “It is no longer possible to provide professional and high standards of care to vulnerable patients in such unsafe, under-staffed and immoral conditions”. Nurses say they thought long about serving notice of industrial action in Beaumont Hospital and hospitals in Drogheda, Naas, Mullingar and Limerick. We should be very concerned about that.
Beds have been lost in Galway and Roscommon hospitals, principally through the closure of the accident and emergency department in Roscommon, which is putting further pressure on Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and University College Hospital, Galway. People still talk about the car parking situation in Galway because of the new building projects. There is talk of building a new unit with 50 psychiatric beds. It seems very wrong for all the development to take place in one hospital. A total of 22 psychiatric beds have been closed at St. Brigid’s Hospital in Ballinasloe. One of the first things to be done in Galway is to build a new car park because of the difficulties people have in accessing a parking place.
Last November we spoke about the shortage of nursing home beds and the fair deal scheme which was approving only a few people every week. That improved a little. The HSE is saying that an additional 7,600 beds will be required for long-term residential care between now and the end of 2021. There is a need for careful planning, for people to sit down and examine the situation. When nurses tell us, as they did today outside Leinster House, that patients are being examined in corridors in hospitals and dignity, as one said, has gone out the door we have to start asking serious questions. They say there is no privacy. There is not even a pillow, a basic comfort.
I hope the Minister is listening to what has been said. Local radio and newspapers indicate what is happening on the ground. There was a headline in last week’s Connacht Tribune asking how the emergency department crisis hit this new low. It reported that a patient was left parked in an ambulance for 90 minutes because there was no trolley and that a pensioner was discharged to get the bus home in her nightdress. The Tuam Herald gave more detail. It transpired that the woman, who had been in the hospital from 9.45 p.m. the previous evening, was not seen until the next morning and had to get a taxi to Eyre Square then a bus home. When one sees those situations one knows how serious and important it is that we get action in our emergency departments.