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Waiting list targets may not be met due to record high bed occupancy rates – IHCA

By Reporter - 14th Apr 2023

Prof Rob Landers

The IHCA has today (14 April) warned that waiting list reduction targets for 2023 will never be met unless hospital bed occupancy rates are significantly reduced by rapidly delivering extra capacity in our public hospitals.

Commenting as the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) released its waiting list figures for the end of March, the IHCA said that average bed occupancy rates of over 95 per cent recoded in the first two months of the year significantly contributed to the extreme overcrowding in emergency departments (EDs).

Over 34,000 admitted patients were treated on trolleys in the first three months of 2023.

Ten hospitals reported a bed occupancy rate of more than 100 per cent during January and February.

Ireland has among the highest hospital bed occupancy rates in the developed world, well above the recommended maximum occupancy rate of 80 per cent -85 per cent and 50 per cent above the EU average of 63.2 per cent.

Consultants says that occupancy rates at this level resulted in the cancellation of more than 41,000 hospital appointments and operations in the first two months of 2023, in response to the ongoing ED overcrowding crisis.

This figure is an underestimation given HSE data is unavailable for a number of hospitals, according to the Association.

The IHCA say these cancellations will increase waiting lists further, which at the end of March totalled 885,600 people on some form of NTPF waiting list.

This is an increase of 15,500 since the start of the year and an additional 300,000 (52 per cent) people on waiting lists compared with May 2017 when Sláintecare was published. 

The IHCA state such high rates of bed occupancy and the continued cancellation of operations is likely to prevent the Government’s €443 million Waiting List Action Plan reaching its target of reducing waiting lists for outpatient appointments and inpatient and day case treatment and procedures by 69,000 (10 per cent) by the end of the year.

Commenting on today’s NTPF figures, IHCA President Prof Robert Landers said:

“Occupancy rates at this extreme level result in regular bed shortages, increased numbers of admitted patients being treated on trolleys, higher levels of healthcare acquired infections and cancellation of appointments in addition to growing waiting lists.

“Without a sufficient number of additional hospital beds, waiting lists will continue to increase and maintaining bed occupancy levels at 80 per cent to 85 per cent will be impossible.”

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