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Former HSE DG warns too much focus put on trolley figures

The Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM) 30th anniversary meeting heard concerns expressed about a growing tolerance of the number of patients on hospital trolleys and the role the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO)’s ‘trolley watch’ plays in highlighting the issue.

“In the popular discourse, the whole of emergency medicine has come to be defined by ‘trolley watch’,” former HSE Director General (DG) Mr Tony O’Brien told the meeting.

“The problem with ‘trolley watch’, with all due respect to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation which has pursued the campaign, is that [it] is not a campaign about emergency medicine or about emergency departments.

“It is a campaign with a number of objectives that uses the trolley situation in a way to launch various demands, issues, ideas, strategic objectives that the INMO has.”

As a result, Mr O’Brien said that “consequently, it is used for a variety of purposes”.

“So this annual rush that we see every January to announce the latest peak, actually is just a way of letting the political system off the hook. It has become like background wallpaper in January and February,” said Mr O’Brien. 

“And we all know that is not even just a January and February issue anymore…

“I remember when the tolerance was 400, then 500, then 600, 700 [patients on trolley]. Who knows what that tolerance will be in the next winter season?

“So ‘trolley watch’, I think, has served many purposes but it has not served the purpose of really elevating the challenge that trolleys present to good and effective emergency departments.”

Mr O’Brien added in the years he was HSE DG, “I always knew that whatever phone call I got on a Monday morning from whatever Minister it was, was a direct product of Sunday’s headlines, what people were talking to TDs about at the weekend in their constituencies, and probably what the lead discussion was on the Marian Finucane show at 11am on Sunday [on RTÉ Radio One].

“It is shockingly simplistic, shockingly shallow, but totally predictable.”

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