January 2018 was the worst month for hospital overcrowding since records began 14 years ago, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said.
According to its latest ‘Trolley and Ward Watch' figures, 12,201 patients were left waiting on trolleys in hospitals nationwide last month - an 18% increase on January 2017's figure of 10,365.
Furthermore, last month's figures are 94% higher than January 2008 (6,301) and 128% higher than January 2007 (5,361).
The worst hit hospitals last month were University Hospital Limerick, which recorded 1,003 patients on trolleys, Cork University Hospital (832), University Hospital Galway (681) and Letterkenny General Hospital (671).
The worst hit hospital in Dublin was St Vincent's University Hospital (559).
Meanwhile, the three children's hospitals in Crumlin, Tallaght and Temple Street, recorded 192 children waiting on trolleys.
INMO general secretary, Phil Ni Sheaghdha, described this as ‘an incredible level of overcrowding'.
"The appalling conditions experienced in Emergency Departments (EDs) are now beyond anything we have ever seen. It now amounts to a humanitarian crisis for patients and a risk-rich environment for those trying to work in such chaotic conditions," she commented.
She said that health employers ‘have completely fallen down on their statutory obligation to provide a safe place of work' and employees cannot be expected to tolerate such appalling working environments.
"Many members of the public are openly asking the nurses how they could tolerate such a situation. It seems to us that all standards with regard to fire safety, personal protection, infection control and hygiene have gone out the window," Ms Ni Sheaghdha added.
INMO representatives from all EDs are to attend a meeting on February 6 to consider how to best respond to this issue.