More than 4,000 people aged over 75 endured distressing waits of more than 24 hours in crowded hospital emergency departments in the first three months of this year alone, according to figures released by the 26 County Health Service Executive (HSE).
The distress and delerium to those with cognitive impairment is severe, said Dr Emily O’Conor, president of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, who blamed government failures for the crisis.
Dr O’Conor, consultant at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, said it is not known how many elderly were on trolleys and how many were on chairs.
“Overworked nurses in charge of overcrowded departments” must decide who gets a trolley as there are not enough to go around, she said.
“A 75-year-old person in an emergency department for more than 24 hours is completely unacceptable...Tragically, there are a lot of older people who don’t have their own advocates coming with them,” Dr O’Conor said.
“The environment in the department is difficult. It’s bright and noisy and for someone who has cognitive impairment such as dementia, it can cause acute distress and raise the chances of developing delirium. It can be very difficult for a loved one to witness their agitation,” she said.
A series of failures and scandals have led to calls for the resignation of the Miniter for Health, Simon Harris. Earlier this year there was a scandal over dead bodies which had been left lying on trolleys at University Hospital Waterford (UHW) due to an ovecrowded mortuary. The shocking situation was denied by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar before he was forced into making an embarrassing retraction.
And according to offical government figures, there are currently 9,000 people on a hospital trolley waiting for urgent treatment; while the outpatient waiting list now stands at an incredible 556,411, equivalent to almost one in eight of the state’s population.
Meanwhile, cervical cancer tests continue to be sent to inappropriate labs, despite the scandal that more than 200 women have had their health badly affected -- and 20 have died -- due to the failure to carry out the tests properly.
All this has taken place as health spending has actually accelerated in recent months.
Sinn Féin said: “Fine Gael have had the best part a decade to sort out the crisis in our hospitals. Not only have they failed but they have focused on implementing policies based on cuts, underfunding, slashing frontline staff and enforcing recruitment freezes. They have made things far worse.
“It is abundantly clear that Fine Gael is not for robust, accessible public healthcare. It is quite the opposite. Fine Gael, supported by Fianna Fáil, has consistently pushed a privatisation agenda which has made it harder and harder for ordinary people to get the treatment they need. We are seeing the fruits of that toxic agenda.”