Health crisis leaves nurses at the end of their tether and threatens to drag Ireland back to dark ages

Too many people have been left waiting on a trolley or, worse again, on a chair in a hospital emergency room. There are also far too many waiting at home, sick and fretful, and too afraid to go to the hospital.

his is a tragedy afflicting individuals and their loved ones. Medical experts admit ruefully that this situation has cost lives.

The post-Christmas hospital and healthcare crisis has left our systems teetering on the brink of collapse. It has also seriously impacted people’s perception of Irish healthcare right now.

In reality, it has totally shot people’s confidence in our hospitals while the sheer frustration and fury of exhausted nurses has led them to talk about considering industrial action.

A weekend survey told us seven out of 10 Irish people would only consider going to a hospital if their life was at risk. Furthermore, one in four people said they would only go to hospital on the referral of a GP.

This is a crisis of public confidence which, if sustained, could drag modern Ireland back to the dark ages. The Irish people urgently need and deserve hospital care of an acceptable standard.

What is happening right now is way short of that standard of care. The Irish people’s loss of confidence in our hospitals amounts to a crisis within a crisis.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has spoken of a “perfect storm”, with spikes in flu numbers happening in tandem with rising Covid numbers, and all compounded by a rise in other respiratory complaints. While this may explain the aggravated nature of the current crisis, we must also reflect that this situation is pretty much an annual occurrence, and the only variation is in its degree.

There are signs that the numbers may yet have peaked and that marginal interventions, including discharging sufficiently well patients earlier, may be easing the crisis. But the Ireland Thinks survey for yesterday’s Sunday Independent – showing such a high public aversion to our hospitals – suggests a longer-term fallout.

We must also reflect more deeply on the level of frustration among exhausted hospital staff who feel they are at the end of their tether. The leaders of the nurses’ union, INMO, have said their members cannot continue to absorb this level of pressure or face the level of risk to patients.

So, the threat of industrial action by hospital staff understandably looms into view. Many in the general public will issue a heartfelt plea to those staff to keep going for now, as such a move would compound the crisis and increase patients’ misery and suffering.

Our political leaders preface all their comments of late with tributes to the healthcare workers. That smacks of the hollow-gesture nature of public rounds of applause for these workers in the early stages of the Covid pandemic.

These self-same health workers helped us through that pandemic. With a deal of imaginative commitment and more resources, they can also see us clear of this latest crisis.