Ireland
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Emergency department patients suffering 'appalling abuse' from drunks

Patients waiting in emergency departments are being intimidated by other patients who are drunk or have taken illegal drugs, the Oireachtas health committee heard on Wednesday.

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan described hearing “appalling abuse” of patients and staff while waiting in some hospitals this summer.

His concerns were supported by Senator Martin Conway, who noted the trolley count for University Hospital Limerick was a startling 124, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

This came during a discussion on Sláintecare plans and how reforms are moving care when appropriate out of hospitals into the community.

Mr Durkan said what he saw was “shocking” for everyone.

“I saw A&E departments in major hospitals where there were a lot of patients in urgent need of attention, clearly suffering with severe pain, but at the front row in these A&Es were a variety of people suffering from drug overdoses, alcohol overdoses,” he said.

“[They] had dominated the waiting area to such an extent that other patients, young, old and middle-aged, were intimidated into waiting further, waiting in the back-row.” 

He called for a section to be set aside for patients with substance abuse issues, noting they were “banging on doors” and attracting attention ahead of other patients.

“The amount of abuse to doctors and nurses and attendants is just appalling,” he said. 

I saw a fight break out in an A&E in one hospital, where one potential patient proposed to wrap a crutch around the head of another patient.” 

He also said it was obvious there was a shortage of emergency medicine consultants.

HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster said he shared the TD’s abhorrence of these issues.

“The reality is we have to triage everybody who presents to our emergency department,” he said.

“The first person that we do not triage, regardless of their conduct in the emergency department, and goes out the door and suffers a subdural haematoma, I’d be back in here facing inquiries. We have to deal with what is in front of us.” 

Financial concerns

Significant financial concerns were also aired around potential supplementary budget requests. 

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane asked: “Could I speculate that the actual deficit will be between €1.3bn and €1.5bn in terms of recurring expenditure that needs to be provided for, would that be accurate?” 

Mr Gloster responded: “If the cash pressure turns out to be €1.1bn, and as I say there is still a couple of months of the year to run, but if it were to turn out to be €1.1bn, then what we call the income and expenditure line would probably show somewhere in the region of €1.4bn or €1.5bn.” 

Department of Health secretary-general Robert Watt agreed one problem was “definitely” under-funding of existing levels of service in previous years. 

It also emerged the HSE was spending in the region of €25m every three months for public patients treated in private hospitals.

Mr Gloster told People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny they are offering “substantial business” and he was surprised to hear the Irish Private Hospitals Association say earlier this week it had concerns about future cooperation.

The HSE currently uses 160 beds daily, at a cost of between €1,400 and €1,500 each daily, as well as other costs, he said.

In relation to staffing, he said: “At the end of August 2023, the HSE and Section 38 agencies employed 161,634 people, equating to 142,468 whole time equivalents (WTE). That is a net growth of 4,722 WTE, with four months of the year still to be counted.” 

Mr Watt said there were now 622 consultants working on the new Sláintecare public-only contract.