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Emergency department consultants voice serious concerns over winter period

The HSE has told this newspaper it is still working on hospital winter plans.

“Winter planning is currently well underway and the HSE is working with the Department of Health, Hospital Groups and Community Healthcare Organisations to finalise plans as quickly as possible to ensure robust preparedness for winter,” a HSE spokesperson told the Medical Independent (MI).

This newspaper asked which hospitals and Hospital Groups had finalised winter plans, but the HSE did not reply to this query.

“We still have the same concerns [as last year]. I suppose they are just getting worse,” Dr Emily O’Conor, President of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM) and Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, told MI.

“As you can see from the numbers, attendances on emergency departments are already up by nearly 70,000 this year. That’s the size of a whole new Limerick ED and yet we are trying to absorb that fully,” she said.

“Input into emergency departments is increasing, but there have been no significant bed increases. We are pretty worried about coming into this winter.

“We think we are going to be running into long waits to see a doctor in the emergency departments and also long waits for patients who need beds.”

Dr O’Conor’s understanding was that the winter plans were “still with the Department of Health and have not been signed-off on yet. So it is going to come too late”.

IMO President and Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, Dr Peadar Gilligan, echoed these concerns. He told MI that the winter was likely to be “very, very challenging”.

“I think the high likelihood is that the winter months are likely to be very, very challenging, and distressing for patients and staff involved in the delivery of care to those patients,” said Dr Gilligan.

“So for that reason we very definitely need immediate action, and that is around opening any available capacity in the acute hospital system, but also moving those patients who no longer need to be in acute hospitals into a more appropriate setting, like a nursing home, or [their own] home with increased home care support. That requires investment.”

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