Each day, the Health Service Executive (HSE) and the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (INMO) publish separate figures on overcrowding and the number of patients on a trolley waiting for admission to a bed.

Some people may find the figures confusing as they always differ.

So which figures are correct, or are some figures more accurate than others?

The figures essentially differ because the HSE and the INMO count different things.

This HSE says its figures include patients who are on a hospital trolley or extra bed placed in an inappropriate space in a hospital ward.

In addition to those in emergency departments, the INMO also counts patients placed on wards, or on corridors or chairs, elsewhere in hospitals, waiting for admission to a bed.

So both are calculated differently and some people may take issue with the HSE or the INMO data.

On the day of the record number recorded, Tuesday 3 January last, the INMO put the figure at 931 patients waiting. The HSE figure was 772.

However, while in Government, former Minister for Health Dr James Reilly said he accepted the INMO figures.

It is important to be aware that the trolley numbers count 'admitted patients', rather than patients waiting to be seen or triaged.

Admitted patients are those who have been seen and assessed by clinical staff and where a decision to admit them to a bed has been made. The difficulty is that there is not a bed free so they must wait.

Health authorities often say that the focus should be more about how long patients may have to wait for admission to a bed, not the number of patients waiting.

On the day of the record number recorded, Tuesday 3 January last, the INMO put the figure at 931 patients waiting. The HSE figure was 772.

Previously, the highest level of overcrowding recorded by the INMO was 760 patients on 6 January 2020.

That figure was matched on 19 December 2022.

INMO Trolley Watch 2006

In 2006, the INMO began counting nationally the number of patients who were admitted to hospital without a bed. In 2002, they began counting trolley waits just in the Dublin region.

The INMO says that it counts all patients who are admitted to hospital without a bed.

"We count patients on trolleys and chairs in emergency departments and in other wards in each hospital," the INMO told RTÉ News.

"The HSE only counts patients who are physically in the emergency department, whereas the INMO figures give a more accurate depiction of how many people are on trolleys and chairs right throughout our public hospitals."

The INMO says that since 2006, over 1,363,950 patients have been admitted to hospital, without a bed

These patients may be treated on trolleys in corridors, on chairs, in waiting rooms, or simply where there is space.

The INMO says that since 2006, over 1,363,950 patients have been admitted to hospital, without a bed.

People may ask why would patients on wards be included?

Once a decision is made to admit a patient to a bed, they still remain under the care of the staff in the emergency department until they can safely transfer to the appropriate hospital ward for their ongoing care.

The INMO publishes the figures on its website from Monday to Friday.

HSE TrolleyGAR

The HSE TrolleyGAR figures can be viewed each day, seven days a week, on the HSE TrolleyGAR website.

The HSE counts the figures three times daily at 8am, 2pm and 8pm. These figures may change during the day.

TrolleyGAR reports the numbers of patients awaiting admission whose wait time exceeds nine hours and 24 hours.

The data also shows by hospital, how many patients are waiting over 24 hours or over nine hours.

The HSE told RTÉ News that the system enables the hospitals' system performance and helps trigger the hospitals' response during busy periods.

The media relies on the data published by both the HSE and the INMO
to reflect the level of overcrowding on any given day

The information generated is circulated to senior HSE leadership and the Department of Health for review in terms of latest update reports.

The HSE says the data supports operational control and communication at site, group and national levels, in terms of meeting real-time unscheduled care needs.

"It provides timely information on demand, and supports the use of timely, meaningful and robust data, to enable proactive responses to periods of additional 'surge' capacity in the system," the HSE added.

The HSE figures each day are normally much lower than the INMO figures.

Which figures are correct?

Essentially both figures are a reflection of the HSE or the INMO’s system of calculation.

HSE staff collect the HSE statistics and INMO members collect the Trolley Watch data.

So you could say they are both correct, but different.

Public hospitals are private locations and patients are entitled to privacy.

The media cannot go into each hospital in the country, each day and approach and identify each admitted patient in an emergency department, or on a corridor, or ward to independently validate the data.

The media relies on the data published by both the HSE and the INMO to reflect the level of overcrowding on any given day.

The HSE figures may not capture some patients who are awaiting admission to a bed, but are elsewhere in the hospital, away from the emergency department and are regarded as being in an appropriate space but remain under the care of the emergency department clinicians.

RTÉ News generally reports both the HSE and INMO data but often gives prominence to the INMO figures, as they capture more of the scale of overcrowding within hospitals.