Health service management are understood to be considering contracting beds in private hospitals to assist in tackling the problem of large numbers of patients waiting on trolleys for admission to public institutions.
The number of people on trolleys in hospitals across the State has been approaching record levels as the health system struggles to deal with a rise in admissions caused by flu.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said on Friday there were 462 patients on trolleys in emergency departments and on wards awaiting admission to hospital beds.
The HSE said that on its calculations, which can differ from those of the INMO, there were 386 patients on trolleys, with 158 of these waiting more than nine hours.
Informed sources said the issue of utilising beds in private hospitals to assist in dealing with the public hospital trolley crisis had been discussed in recent days.
However, some sources cautioned that such an initiative may not prove to be as practicable as it might appear at first glance.
Issue of costs
Sources said the costs involved could prove to be prohibitive, while a number of private hospitals may not have the capacity to deal with the types of patients who the HSE may wish to move from public institutions.
On Friday, hospitals urged the public to explore all other options available to them before attending emergency departments.
The HSE noted there were a number of minor and local injury units to provide treatment and care for routine non-urgent matters.
These included the Rapid Access Clinic in Smithfield, Dublin; Mercy Urgent Care Centre, Gurranabraher, Cork; and the Minor Injury Unit at Louth County Hospital, Dundalk.
It said that in general, hospital emergency departments were reporting a 10 per cent increase overall in attendances.
In some cases the figure was considerably higher, for example Connolly Hospital - 14 per cent, Our Lady’s of Lourdes Drogheda - 21 per cent, Cork University Hospital - 14 per cent, and Beaumont Hospital - 12 per cent.
“In the first 20 days of 2016 there have been 64,952 attendances across all emergency departments, up 5,415 on 2015. Of particular significance has been the marked increase in the proportion of older persons attending emergency departments. These patients typically have a much higher requirement for admission.”
Flu-like illness rates
The HSE said flu-like illness rates had quadrupled and were now at equivalent levels to end of February 2015.
It said hospitals were reporting increased prevalence of patients presenting with respiratory/flu-like symptoms.
“In line with the agreed emergency department escalation procedures, some hospitals have taken the decision to postpone non-urgent (elective) procedures to help alleviate pressures in the emergency departments.
“All affected patients have been contacted and informed that their appointments will be rescheduled as soon as possible.”
Beaumont Hospital said there were no plans to postpone any procedures planned for Monday, January 25th.
It said the difficult conditions experienced by patients at its emergency departments led to the postponement of five non-urgent procedures on Thursday.