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News IRELAND daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 29th January 2015

Thousands lose power across Donegal as strong winds hit the Northwest of Ireland.


 Met Eireann has issued an orange wind weather warning for Donegal with conditions set to worsen overnight.

Gusts are expected to reach up to 110kmph in Co Donegal tonight Thursday, while temperatures will also drop, which will bring some wintry showers.

A spell of rain and sleet will move down across the country from the northwest early tonight, falling as snow in parts of Ulster and Leinster.

Gardaí are advising motorists to take caution on the roads. Meanwhile thousands of homes and businesses lost power in Co Donegal.

Power was lost on Arranmore Island with over 500 affected. The ESB hopes to have the outage resolved by 00.45 on Friday. A further 37 were affected in Dungloe.

1246 homes and businesses lost power in Kilcar with service due  back at 00.45

302 lost power in Milford with the ESB predicting service to be returned by 11pm. Stranorlar was also affected, 550 without electricity, power is expected to be returned by 22.45.

96 lost power in Bundoran.

A number of homes and businesses also lost power in Ballyshannon, Kilcar and on Inch island..

Teachers’ group calls for equality review at NUI Galway


Right picture the teachers who brought Legal proceedings against NUIG: Adrienne Gorman, Sylvie Lannergrand, Roisin Healey, Micheline Sheehy Skeffington,

Female academics have filed action against university over failure to be promoted.

The Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has added its voice to demands for an independent external review of gender equality in NUI Galway (NUIG).

The Irish Federation of University Teachers has added its voice to demands for an independent external review of gender equality in NUI Galway (NUIG).

The federation issued its call ahead of today’s special meeting of NUIG’s governing body on Friday, at which details of a taskforce to review practices on equality are expected to be discussed.

However, a group of female academics, who have filed a legal action against NUIG over their failure to be promoted, have contacted governing body members to express their disappointment at the issue not being resolved internally.

The women, shortlisted for senior lectureships in 2008/2009 and again in 2013/14, had understood the university intended to try and reach an “amicable” solution.

Recent correspondence between them and the university indicates that it intends to pursue a legal route, according to college sources. The group met NUIG president Dr Jim Browne on December 16th last, when they informed him they had were under a deadline to file a circuit course case in relation to the 2013/2014 round.

It is understood that they made it clear that they would put a stay on the court proceedings, pending a promised senior counsel review on NUIG’s behalf of the Equality Tribunal report on the Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington case.

The tribunal found in favour of Dr Sheehy Skeffington and directed that she be promoted and awarded €70,000. She has pledged to use the funds to assist the women in their legal action.

Separately, the university is appealing an €81,000 award which the Equality Tribunal directed that it pay lecturer Mary Dempsey last summer, after it found that she was discriminated against by the university on the grounds of gender, family status and disability.

A protest organised by students with Dr Sheehy Skeffington’s support is due to take place outside the governing body meeting, while federation members are also gathering to discuss ways to ensure that gender equality issues are “highlighted in collective bargaining and industrial relations talks and initiatives generally”.

“NUIG’s proposal to establish a task force on the matter is welcome, but task force membership should be agreed jointly with staff unions and engage directly with staff, to ensure full confidence in, and maximum effectiveness of the process,” IFUT deputy general secretary Joan Donegan said.

“The board of NUIG should set clear time deadlines for completion, which should be agreed at the beginning of the investigation.”

Earlier this month, NUIG said it had written to the Irish University Association and the Higher Education Authority to request that the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) be approached to carry out an equality review of the entire sector. It had no comment to make on the issue on Thursday.

Almost 2,000 elective Irish Hospital procedures are cancelled


Close to 2,000 elective procedures have been cancelled in order to ease pressure on Emergency Departments (EDs) — a move described as “necessary” by Minister for Health Dr Leo Varadkar, who stressed that “patient safety comes first”.

“Given the level of overcrowding in some of the Irish hospitals, most of which had to be done. Elective activity is always less in January. We will need to ramp up activity: generally wards are closed during the summer. That won’t be possible this year. We will need to keep wards open, in order to catch up on elective activity,” he said.

Some 150 people were on trolleys for more than nine hours on January 23, which was still “pretty bad, even for January”, the Minister added. “We need to focus on this. It will need constant attention throughout the year.” However, he indicated that the latest numbers on influenza, which the health service had been very concerned about, did not suggest infections were increasing.

The intention was to extend Acute Medical Assessment Unit (AMAU) opening times this year to seven days per week, the Minister elaborated. AMAUs, he said, “work well and are being rolled out across the country”.

Most AMAUs are now only open five days per week and Prof Garry Courtney, the HSE’s Acute Medicine Programme Clinical Lead, is to direct the roll-out. Kilkenny and St James’s pioneered AMAUs — units where patients may be sent in directly by the GP or come in through the ED. They are sent to a special ward, where all the investigations are done in one day. The patient can then either be admitted or discharged.

The target is to reduce delayed discharges to fewer than 500 by the end of the year, Dr Varadkar has stated. “That would be the lowest ever recorded,” said the Minister. Delayed discharges are now down from 850 to near 750. He accepted that there would always be a certain number of delayed discharges — those who are in hospital and going through the application process for a nursing home.

But delayed discharges were “not really the hospitals’ fault”, the Minister said. The problem was a matter for social care and community and how these elements linked, said Dr Varadkar. “The Irish health service is not good at mainstreaming ‘best practice’ and that is a big challenge. St James’s has a reputation as an extremely well run hospital. It rarely has patients on trolleys.”

Patients on trolleys should not be a “year-round phenomenon” — as occurs in some hospitals  though there would always be surges, in the Minister’s view. Yet no patient should ever have to spend more than nine hours on a trolley waiting for a bed. “Aside from the discomfort, loss of privacy and dignity, it is a patient safety risk particularly for the frail elderly,” Dr Varadkar added.

“Even though the situation is much improved, we are, of course, not out of the woods yet and looking back at previous years we have seen peaks in trolleys and overcrowding at various points in the year, including February 2011, March 2012 and May 2013,” said Dr Varadkar during Oireachtas Private Members business. “It is clear that a sustained focus will be required throughout the winter and into the summer.”

The future of internet big data could be good for your health


Exploiting today’s information mountain is not all about online commerce: one of Europe’s largest analytics centres is advancing the area of ‘connected health

The Internet of Things is attempting to join together your television, car, computer and just about anything else that can generate or use data.

The world is in data overload. The information superhighway was built and we are now struggling to handle the big data mountain that it delivered.

But what started as a problem has now become an opportunity. Researchers and companies have realised that if you mine that data, you get useful information with an inherent value.

Finding novel ways to exploit this morass of big data is the challenge faced by the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. The centre, established in July 2013, was formed from five existing research centres that were set up several years ago.

Through a combination of good people, good planning and a degree of good luck, these five were all working on different aspects of big data, explains Prof Mark Ferguson, director-general of Science Foundation Ireland, the body that funded these centres.

So it was an easy decision to pull them together into a single research entity under one banner. Insight includes four university partners: University College Dublin, NUI Galway, University College Cork and Dublin City University. It attracted €58 million from Government coffers and another €30 million from industrial partners, making it the largest investment in a single research centre in the history of the State.

We swim through a deepening ocean of data, collected from cinemas, supermarkets, websites, social-media companies and businesses. The Internet of Things is attempting to join together your television, car, computer and just about anything else that can generate or use data.

“There is data everywhere. We have gone from a data-poor to a data-rich society and you need to analyse and create value out of it. It is a huge opportunity,” says Prof Ferguson.

At the Google level

Insight is now one of the largest data analytics centres in Europe. It involves the work of 350 researchers; with a team like that, “we are at the Google level” for data analytics, says Prof Barry Smyth, a director of Insight and investigator based at UCD’s school of computer science and informatics.

“It is not just big data for big companies; it is about empowering the citizen,” he says. “But individuals need to have the right to control the data and how it is used.”

Certainly mining this data helps online retail, advertising and commerce. But big data also holds much promise in “connected health”, he says. “This involves helping people to live healthier lives. This taps into wearable devices, activity monitors. They are counting steps, watching sleep patterns.”

Imagine a visit to the GP who has details from that day but also a year’s worth of stored activity data. The picture changes from a snapshot to a proper portrait and improves the doctor’s assessment.

Dr Brendan Marshall is a biomechanist at the Sports Surgery Clinic in Dublin, a company involved with Insight. He analyses how people move and how that relates to the injuries they develop.

“We can look at injury risk factors and are looking to Insight to analyse our data in novel ways,” he says. He can analyse single aspects of movement, but with data mining and mathematics from Insight he can get the big picture. “It is real-world stuff and it is happening now. It is not just for the future,” he says.

Prof Smyth gives another scenario of how connected health might work. You visit your physiotherapist, who gives you pages describing exercises. But what if, instead, you were given a computer game in which you were the main character, and the movements you make in the game equate to the movements necessary to achieve the goals of the exercises?

For years, scientists at DCU and elsewhere have been tracking movements using wearable sensors, GPS locators and accelerometers. Our rugby internationals are wired up with some of this technology, which also monitors physical performance and radios it back to a central system even as they play.

Mathematics is the tool used to extract useful information from raw data, says Prof Smyth. “We are using statistical techniques, machine learning and data mining. We start with numbers and then begin to see correlations and patterns,” he says. “It can help you make predictions and make better decisions.”

Big data is here to stay. “There were seven billion smart devices in the world last year, but this is expected to reach 14 billion this year,” says Oliver Daniels, chief executive of Insight. “This could hit 150 billion by 2020. There are issues around the privacy and ownership of that data. People are concerned about ‘big brother’ as well as big data,” he says.

Even so, Ireland will have to get ahead of the curve and make predictions about where big data will go in the future, he says. “Insight wants to help shape how we go forward and how our economy will benefit.”

Dementia care in Irish Nursing Homes severely lacking


(right picture) Kathleen Lynch TD Minister of State, Department of Health and Department of Justice, Equality & Defence with responsibility for Disability,Older People, …

Almost 90% of nursing homes in Ireland have no dedicated dementia care units, despite the increasing number of people living with this condition, a major new survey has found.

According to a new report based on the survey findings, dementia is currently ‘one of the biggest challenges facing global healthcare and health economies’.

Around 48,000 people in Ireland have dementia and this figure is expected to increase significantly in the coming years,

Yet little information on the state of dementia care nationally is available. Researchers at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) decided to survey the country’s nursing homes to see what dementia services they offered.

Just over 600 nursing homes were approached to take part and almost eight in 10 participated. However among these, just 54 (11%) stated that they offered dementia-specific care in specialist care units (SCUs). In other countries such as Norway and the Netherlands, some 33% of nursing homes offer this type of care.

The survey also revealed that SCUs have developed in ‘an arbitrary, fragmented and uncoordinated manner’, with half of all SCUs located in just five counties and some counties, including Sligo, Carlow and Kilkenny, offering no specialist provision at all.

Meanwhile, the average number of residents with dementia living in SCUs was 19, ‘a figure way in excess of best practice norms’.

For people waiting for admission to an SCU, there were big variations depending on the location, with waiting times particularly long in Leinster where there are far fewer SCUs.

The survey also found that over 60% of specialist dementia services were provided by private nursing homes, yet the private sector received significantly less funding for the care of older people from the National Treatment and Purchase Fund.

Furthermore, private nursing homes were more likely to report that all staff had received specialist dementia training. In HSE-operated facilities, just one-third of staff were specially trained.

The report stated that ‘a new funding model is required if the private sector is to be further incentivised, with more funding allocated to private nursing homes in recognition of the specialist services needed to support people with dementia’.

“Of some concern is the fact that only 11% of all the Irish facilities surveyed have dedicated dementia units and, despite an expected increase in demand for long-term dementia care arising as a result of population ageing, only a small minority of Irish nursing homes intend opening dementia units,” said the report’s lead author, Associate Prof Suzanne Cahill, of TCD.

Commenting on the findings, Tadhg Daly, CEO of Nursing Homes Ireland, said that this survey should act as an ‘eye-opener’ for the Government and various policy stakeholders.

“We wholeheartedly welcome the research findings that the complex and high-dependency needs of persons with dementia need to be realistically reflected in better resource allocation,” he added.

Megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) discovered by fishermen on the shores of Barangay Marigondon


Fishermen use a stretcher with steels bars to carry a rare 15-foot (4.5-m) megamouth shark (Megachasma Pelagios), which was trapped in a fishermen’s net in Burias Pass in Albay and Masbate provinces, central Philippines January 28, 2015.

A megamouth shark can reach to a maximum length of 17 feet (5.2 metres) with a life span of 100 years. It resides in deep waters but rises towards the surface at night to feed or eat plankton. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Albay province will investigate to determine the cause of the shark’s death.

A 15-foot shark with a gaping mouth washed up on a Philippines beach, giving scientists a rare glimpse at a species normally found deep in the ocean.

The megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) was discovered by fishermen on the shores of Barangay Marigondon earlier this week. Officials with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources later told the Inquirer newspaper that there were wounds on the shark and it was missing a tail. The shark is currently on ice awaiting an examination from veterinarians.

An environmental group called Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines was the first to publicize the discovery, putting photos of the shark on its Facebook page.

The incredibly rare megamouth shark (Megachasma pelagios) is considered the most significant shark species discovered in the 20th century, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Only about 20 specimens have ever been spotted.

As such, little is known about the shark’s numbers, behavior and where it can be found. The IUCN said it is believed the shark’s range could include waters around Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Senegal and the United States. It has been found in bay waters as shallow as 16 feet and recorded offshore at depths of 15,000 feet.

Nonie Enolva of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources told the Inquirer that the cause of the shark’s death was unknown, and that the bureau plans to stuff the animal and put it on display.

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Thursday 6th November 2014

The Euro hits a two year low after Draghi comments today causes a dip in the markets


The euro slumped to a two-year low and European government bond yields dipped on Thursday after European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi reiterated plans to revive the struggling euro zone economy by increasing the ECB’s balance sheet.

Stocks on world markets were mixed, with Wall Street little changed a day ahead of the U.S. government’s employment report for October. The S&P 500 managed to touch another record high.

Markets had been unsettled leading up to the European Central Bank’s monthly policy meeting after Reuters reported that some central bank governors who set ECB policy were unhappy about Draghi’s secretive approach and erratic communication.

But in a statement that strengthened the ECB’s commitment to re-inflate its balance sheet toward 3 trillion euros, its crisis-era level, Draghi said disagreements were just part of central bank policymaking.

His statement and the promise of another trillion euros of easing sent the euro tumbling to $1.2396, its lowest level since August 2012, and pushed the FTSEurofirst 300 .FTEU3 index of top European shares up 1 percent, though the surge was short-lived. The index closed up 0.19 percent.

The euro pared declines as investors looked for more concrete measures from the central bank and was last off 0.6 percent, at $1.2405.

“It still seems as though the ECB is hemmed in by fiscal policymakers who are reluctant to expand the monetary base potentially and reform,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago. “Draghi has sort of reached the end of his authority and his open-mouth policy isn’t working.”

Yields on government bonds issued by Portugal and France fell on the expectation that additional policy actions will keep rates low. The yield on Germany’s 10-year note was flat at 0.828 percent after hitting a high of 0.858 percent.

U.S. stocks edged higher as some disappointing earnings held equities in check, despite another round of upbeat data on the labor market.

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 34.01 points, or 0.19 percent, to 17,518.54, theS&P 500 .SPX gained 1.59 points, or 0.08 percent, to 2,025.16, and the Nasdaq Composite.IXIC dropped 1.99 points, or 0.04 percent, to 4,618.73.

The MSCI all-country world equity index .MIWD00000PUS was off 0.18 percent.

The combination of Draghi’s message and a bigger-than- expected fall in the number of Americans applying for first-time unemployment benefits helped push the dollar .DXY to its highest level since June 2010 against a basket of major currencies.

The Bank of England also met on Thursday and left its record low rates in place. There are signs the BoE is edging toward a first post-crisis rate hike, but a recent slowing of economic momentum has cooled expectations it will move soon.

The dollar’s strength continued to weigh on oil prices, Brent oil, which has plunged nearly 30 percent from its high in June, remained near a four-year low at $82.82 a barrel LCOc1. U.S. crude CLc1 was down 0.8 percent at $78.03.

The fallout of the Irish bailout & the ECB letters four years later


The ECB is today examining the release for publication of four letters between Jean Claude Trichet and Brian Lenihan.  The letters are from the period October – November 2010, a particularly fraught time for the Euro area in general, and the Irish government in particular.

One of these letters contained an overt threat from the ECB governing council that it would stop funding the Irish banking system if the government refused to go into an EU-ECB-IMF organised bailout.

The other letters are dated 15 October 2010, from Trichet to Lenihan.  A reply from Lenihan on 4 November 2010, the 19 November Trichet letter and a response from Lenihan on 21 November, confirming the government’s decision to accept the bailout deal.

That last letter begins “Dear Jean Claude, First let me say that I fully understand your concerns and that of the governing council….”

We know this because it has already been released under Freedom of Information and published by Journalist Gavin Sheridan, who has waged a long running FOI campaign to get these letters into the public domain – a campaign that included an (unsuccessful) appeal to the European Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly.

In turning down his request for the documents in November 2012, the ECB did give some indication of the contents of the letters:

The letter from Trichet on October 15th “expressed the ECB’s appreciation for the Irish government’s commitment to developing a multi-annual economic and fiscal adjustment strategy (this was the “four year plan” from the department of finance, which later became the “troika Programme”).

It also recalled the rules to which Eurosystem credit operations are subject, as well as the role of the ECB’s governing council in monitoring provisions of emergency liquidity assistance, in particular in the case of large liquidity provisions given to some entities, as this may interfere with the objectives and tasks of the Eurosystem and the prohibition of monetary financing under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union”.

This letter was issued about three weeks after Brian Lenihan had met ECB executive board member Juergen Start and EU Commissioner Olli Rehn for secret talks in Brussels about the rapidly increasing costs of Ireland’s bank collapse.

With the initial two year guarantee ending in September 2010, the banks faced a “funding cliff” as they tried to refinance billions of euro worth of bonds that were expiring.

Brian Lenihan’s letter to Trichet on November 4 2010 expressed – according to the ECB’s précis of the letter – “the Irish government’s concerns about the very adverse financial market developments at that time, in relation to the widening of the spread of Irish government bonds vis avis German Bunds and its possible impact”.

This letter was written after the so called “Deauville declaration” by Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy, which stated that France and Germany would back the EFSF and EFSM rescue funds, but they would expect bank bondholders to lose some of their money as part of the restructuring of Euro area banks.

Markets reacted very badly to this, and it triggered a huge blowout in Irish bond yields, as investors dumped Irish government paper. These are the “adverse financial market developments” referred to by the ECB.

At this time Brian Lenihan announced the four year plan would entail  a new €15 billion adjustment programme, with €6 billion of that front loaded into the 2011 budget.  This was to be on top of the €15 billion adjustment that had already happened over the previous two years.

The third letter referred to by the ECB in its FOI refusal to Gavin Sheridan is that of the 19th of November from Trichet to Lenihan.  This was written the day after Governor Patrick Honohan’s famous interview on Morning Ireland, when he told the nation the ECB expected Ireland t take a bailout programme, and that the IMF was already in Dublin for meetings that morning.

The ECB says “the letter of 19 November 2010 expressed the concerns of the ECB’s governing council regarding the extraordinarily grave and difficult situation faced by the Irish Financial sector at the time, and its impact on the stability of the Irish financial sector as a whole. The letter also invited the Irish government to take swift and bold action in order to address those concerns.

“In line with the message which it has consistently delivered to the public, the ECB encouraged the Irish government to commit to taking decisive action in the areas of fiscal consolidation, structural reform and financial sector restructuring, including recapitalisation where necessary.  Similarly th ECB also asked for reassurance that th Irish government would take the necessary action to ensure that the balance sheet of the Central Bank of Ireland remained protected, in line with the principle that liquidity could only be provided against adequate collateral”.

This last line is particularly significant, as it appears the ECB had severe doubts about the bank assets that had been pledged in return for borrowings from the ECB that amounted to some €140 billion at that point as well as emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) of some €30 billion for Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide.  The ECB was only supposed to lend (including ELA) to solvent banks – i.e. ones they could get their money back from.

Lenihan wrote to Trichet on 21 November, the day the government decided to formally seek a bailout programme from the Troika.  Lenihan’s reply states “In relation to points (1) to (4) of your letter, I would like to inform you that the Irish Government has decided today to seek access to external support from the European and International support mechanisms.  This grave and serious decision has been taken in the light of the developments I have outlined above (the Deauville declaration, the Greek debt Crisis, ratings agency downgrades, an economic slowdown), and informed by your recent communications, and the advice you have conveyed to me personally and courteously in recent days”.

The ECB was not the only one to to be worried about the country. Olli Rehn recently confirmed on the Marian Finucane show that Timothy Geithner, the then US treasury secretary and former head of the New York Fed had raised his worries that Anglo could trigger an international banking crisis at the G20 summit in Seoul on November 11 2010.

Rehn said he met Geithner, Trichet and German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble in Seoul, and they had agreed that Ireland had to enter a bailout programme to stop the threat of a wider banking crisis.

The following day – November 12 – Trichet reportedly phoned Lenihan and apparently told him then that the ECB could not go on funding Irish banks if the state did not enter a bailout programme.

Over the next few days the Taoiseach and Irish ministers say Ireland is not looking for a bailout, until on Thursday November 18th, Patrick Honohan phones into Morning Ireland from the Eurotower in Frankfurt, and says the ECB expects the government to do a deal with the Troika for “tens of billions”.

Irish marriages now more civil and older tying the knot than ever before


CSO data shows 18% of Irish people aged 16-24 have never accessed the internet.

Irish brides and grooms have aged by nearly five years each over the last two decades, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

Irish brides and grooms have aged by nearly five years each over the last two decades while the popularity of civil marriages in the Republic has jumped from under a thousand in 1994 to more than 6,000 last year, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

As always its statistical yearbook published today offers a snapshot of where we are as a society and this year’s book paints a picture of marrying couples inclined to wait longer before tying the knot and much less inclined than at any point in modern history to take their vows in a Catholic Church.

The average age of a groom last year was just shy of 35 while brides waited until just before their 33rd birthday before saying “I do”. In 1994 men, typically married in the last weeks of their 20s while the average age of women marrying that year was 27 and three quarters.

Apart from aging marrying types, the other big shift in the nuptial stakes has seen people eschew religion in favour of the civil option. All told, 29.5% of the 20,680 marriages registered last year were civil ceremonies compared with just 5% some 20 years earlier.

While the number of Church of Ireland weddings has remained consistent with 434 people having their weddings registered under the auspices of that faith in 1994 compared with 453 last year, the number of Roman Catholic weddings has fallen from 15,200 20 years ago to 12,921 last year.

  There were 68,930 births registered in 2013, down 3,295 on the 72,225 births registered the previous year with 37% of births recorded among mothers aged between 30-34.

Yet again, most Irish parents displayed a shocking lack of originality when it came to naming their offspring with Jack and Emily once more proving to be the most popular babies’ names in 2013 – the third year in a row the two names have topped the popularity charts. The popularity of Jack is even more enduring and has occupied the number one slot since 2007.

The statistics also record household weekly disposable income for 2012 and puts the figure at €776.26, a decline of 3.1 per cent on the 2011 value. Household disposable income peaked in 2008 at €939.89 and fell by 17.4% between then and 2012.

There were 71,348 new private cars licensed in the year to the end of December 2013, a fall of 6.4% compared to the same period in 2012.

Irish residents made almost 6.6 million trips out of the country in 2013, 85% of which were to other EU countries. Most domestic trips were made either for holidays or to visit friends and relatives as opposed to business with the average family visit lasting 2.5 nights.

The total area farmed in 2013 was 4.5 million hectares. Crops, fruit and horticulture accounted for just 8% of land usage with silage making up 24%, hay 5% and 52% going to pasture for 52% with 11% being used for rough grazing.

By contrast, in 1853 there were 639,000 hectares and 279,000 hectares under oats and potatoes respectively. Since then there has been a decline of over 95% in both those areas with the 2013 figures standing at 27,000 hectares for oats and 11,000 hectares for potatoes.

While farming has featured in surveys for close to 200 years, Facebook and Twitter are new to the statistical party.

In 2013, 46% of businesses said they used social networks to connect with customers compared with an average of 28% across the EU. While it is easy to assume everyone is plugged into the social networks, some 18% of Irish people aged between 16 and 24 have never accessed the internet.

7,000 patients on Irish hospital trolleys last month


Almost 7,000 patients who needed to be admitted to hospital last month found themselves on trolleys either in overcrowded Emergency Departments (EDs) or wards, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has said (INMO).

According to the INMO’s latest ‘Trolley/Ward Watch’ figures, 6,977 patients were treated on trolleys in Irish hospitals during October of this year, compared to 5,209 patients in October of last year – a rise of 34%.

The hospitals with the highest number of patients on trolleys in October 2014 included Beaumont Hospital in Dublin (658), Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda (631), Connolly Hospital in Dublin (570), University Hospital Galway (505) and University Hospital Limerick (484).

Meanwhile the hospitals with the biggest increase in the number of patients on trolleys between October 2013 and October 2014 included the following and as per the caption above.

Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore, which had 20 patients on trolleys in October 2013 and 413 in October 2014
Portiuncula Hospital in Galway, which had 18 patients on trolleys in 2013 and 127 in 2014
Wexford General Hospital, which had 73 patients on trolleys in 2013 and 222 in 2014.

According to INMO general secretary, Liam Doran, this marks the fourth month in a row during which trolley figures have increased when compared to the same period last year.

The trolley figures for September 2014 were 32% higher than September 2013, the August 2014 figures were 19% higher than the August 2013 figures and the July 2014 figures were 8% higher than the July 2013 figures.

“There is no doubt that this worsening situation arises as a direct result of the wholly inadequate budget given to the health service in 2014 to provide services to ill and vulnerable people. As this economy recovers and the Government speaks of growth and economic green shoots, there is no excuse to have growing numbers of ill people on trolleys with no privacy and dignity,” he insisted.

He pointed out that the health service is now entering the peak winter period and he warned that some hospitals will simply be unable to cope with the inevitable increase in demand that is expected in the coming weeks.

“The INMO is now calling upon the Government and the HSE to immediately bring forward the €25 million, which is allocated to address delayed discharges in the 2015 budget, so that it is available immediately to provide additional beds, home care packages and frontline staff,” Mr Doran added.

Image of birth of planet captured by a Chilean telescope


Astronomers say images could transform theories about how planets are formed

This image compares the size of the Solar System with HL Tauri and its surrounding proto-planetary disc. Although the star is much smaller than the Sun, the disc around HL Tauri stretches out to almost three times as far from the star as Neptune is from the Sun.

Some of the most detailed images ever taken of new planets being born around a star were published today, which astronomers said could transform theories about planet formation.

High in the Chilean desert, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillmeter Array, or Alma, observed the planet-forming disc around the young HL Tauri star, producing the sharpest pictures ever made at submillimeter wavelengths.

The pictures show clear concentric rings in the dust left over from the formation of the star, the gaps indicating that planets are already forming, sweeping a path through the material.

HL Tauri, about 450 million light-years away, is around one million years old, a baby by astronomical standards. At that age, current theories suggest there should be very little in the way of planet formation around the star, Alma deputy director Stuartt Corder said.

“But what we find is in this very young phase, we see all these gaps in the ring, in the disc, and these gaps are cleared by large planetary cores,” he said.

“So even at this young age, Alma has discovered that already large planetary cores are forming, so the process of planet formation has to occur much faster and much earlier than we had ever expected.”

Stars are formed in nurseries of dust and gas clouds, collapsing under the effect of gravity until they eventually ignite. The remains of the gas and dust that surround the star clump over time into planets, comets and asteroids.

The discovery is Alma’s first observation in a new and more powerful mode that is its near-final configuration. In June, its final antenna was put in place.

The telescope is situated in the remote Atacama desert in northern Chile, where dryness and altitude produce some of the best conditions possible on Earth for observing the night sky.

Alma’s operations are led by the European Southern Observatory, the US National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

Ireland well off track on climate change targets


Trócaire calls on the Government to introduce targets to reduce Ireland’s carbon footprint

Ireland’s carbon emissions are equal to that of 400 million of the world’s poor – Trócaire

Ireland is “significantly off track” in meeting its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new report on climate change from Trócaire.

The aid agency also said Ireland’s carbon emissions are equal to that of 400 million of the world’s poor, and called on the Government to introduce targets to reduce Ireland’s carbon footprint.

“Under the European Union climate and energy package for 2020, the Republic of Ireland has a 20% reduction target in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020,” the report said.

“However, the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency indicate the emissions in the Republic of Ireland . . . is significantly off track, with decreases of only 5-12% projected.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 5th October 2014

Internet Woman who targeted Madeleine McCann’s parents found dead in hotel room


The woman who was this week exposed as one of the trolls accused of targeting Madeleine McCann’s parents on the internet has been found dead in a Leicestershire hotel, it has been reported.

Brenda Leyland (63) was accused of posting online hate messages aimed at the McCanns.

Madeleine McCann disappeared during a family holiday to Portugal in 2007.

The Daily Mail has reported that Leicestershire Police were called to a hotel in Smith Way, Grove Park in Enderby, Leicester today.

A police spokeswoman said the death was not being treated as suspicious.

Earlier this week, Sky News revealed that Mrs Leyland posted dozens of messages attacking the family using the Twitter handle @sweepyface.

It was reported a day later that Mrs Leyland had fled her Leicestershire home.

When asked why she was using her Twitter account to attack the McCanns, who live with their nine-year-old twins, in Rothley, Leicestershire, Mrs Leyland said: ‘I’m entitled to do that.’

A dossier of online abuse directed at the parents of missing girl Madeleine McCann is being examined by police.

Members of the public have handed a file stretching to more than 80 pages of Tweets, Facebook posts and forum messages aimed at Kate and Gerry McCann to Scotland Yard, according to Sky News.

20% of  Irish households insist they will not pay their water bills


Research says 270,000 unlikely to pay charges

As billing for water services commenced last week, Irish Water is severely limited in its options to force people to pay.

UP to 20% of households are unlikely to pay their water charges, research carried out by Irish Water has found.

The survey suggests as many as 270,000 eligible households are unlikely to pay the controversial charges when bills land next January.

This would leave the Government, which has said it will not cut off the water of those who don’t pay, in a nightmare scenario as their options to force people to pay are extremely limited.

The most common reason given for not paying was because respondents disagreed “in principle” with water charges, followed by affordability issues, poor water quality, a belief they were already paying for water, and water wastage through leaking pipes.

As billing for water services commenced last week, Irish Water is severely limited in its options to force people to pay.

Unlike other utilities such as Electric Ireland or Bord Gais, Irish Water will not have the power to cut off the supply to any home. The most it can do is restrict the supply to a “trickle”. It has emerged that there is no legal minimum flow that Irish Water must continue to supply to homes even in a restriction scenario, as where a house is located on a certain supply pipe would impact on the water pressure.

It was reported that it will only be possible to restrict supply to homes with individual water lines off the main network. This raises the scenario that apartment owners or homes on a shared supply, even if they refuse to pay, are unlikely to ever see their supply restricted.

Irish Water is adamant that moving to a restriction of supply is a “last resort” and that it would hope that the incentive of the allowances will be sufficient to encourage as great a level of compliance as possible.

A couple with two children who would pay €278 under the assessed charge system will be charged €630 a year if they do not sign up when metering charges begin next July. This is because those who fail to provide details will lose their free allowances and will be asked to pay the full cost of drinking and waste water services.

However, anti-water charges groups have been stepping up their calls for the public to defy Irish Water and not pay.

Socialist TD Ruth Coppinger, speaking in the Dail last week, called on the public not to pay the water charges, in a bid to get enough people to refuse to comply as to make the system unworkable.

An Irish Water spokeswoman said that like other utility companies, Irish Water would be able to bring those who refuse to engage with them to court, but accepted that it was only for debt recovery. She said they would seek to find workable solutions for those people struggling to pay, but Irish Water must try and protect those customers who play by the rules.

“Of course, for those who are finding it difficult to meet the bills, we will ask them to engage with us to find a solution that works for everyone. But, for those who won’t pay, we have a range of options to try to ensure compliance. But we have to ensure we protect those customers who pay on time,” said the Irish Water spokeswoman.

Irish Water said last week that landlords would not be held liable for arrears of water charges built up by their tenants. The utility firm said landlords would be sent application packs for their rental properties, which they must forward to the tenants.

In the case of an owner-occupier, the full allowances in relation to water usage are allocated in the normal way and the occupier is liable for the bill.

A spokeswoman explained that if the property was unoccupied, the landlord could claim unoccupied-dwelling status and pay a set charge. The level of this is still under consideration by the regulator. In this case the landlord is liable for the charge. However, in the case of a rented property, Irish Water said: “The tenant is liable for the charge and is also eligible for the allowances, as the property is the principal primary residence of that household.”

Yesterday it emerged that those refusing to register with Irish Water by the end of the month will be hit with bills that are likely to be twice as much as they would pay if they provided the information. There has been a fall in numbers saying they would not pay. In 2012, a similar survey found 30pc were unlikely to pay. Earlier this summer, it emerged that Irish Water had identified political interference and customers not paying as the two biggest threats to its viability.

History of charges

Water charges have haunted the political ‘to-do’ list since domestic rates were abolished in 1977. In the 1990s, an attempt was made to introduce water charges.

This failed after widespread public protest. Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins, then chairman of the Dublin Anti Water Charges Campaign, forced the abolition of water charges in Dublin in 1996.

The same year then Environment Minister Brendan Howlin announced the water charge was going to be replaced by a new system whereby the road tax collected in each area would be the source for council funding

Slow broadband is ‘killing the progress of Irish businesses’


A Portarlington businessman has claimed that slow broadbandspeed is “killing businesses” in the town.

David Maher, an eCommerce businessman based in Port, said that the slow broadband speed has dissuaded new businesses from moving to the area.

“Eircom has declared Portarlington to be fibre enabled since May 2014 and can now offer 100Mbps to users who are lucky enough to get it. Yet in reality less than half of customers in the town can avail of the service and Eircom in their wisdom have excluded the two official industrial estates in the town – Botley Lane on the Offaly side and Canal Road in Laois – from getting fibre optic,” he said.

“This is simply a disaster in terms of getting businesses to move into Portarlington. Why Eircom have decided that businesses should be excluded from access to high speed broadband is hard to understand.”

The future does not seem to offer much in the way of hope as Eircom’s website indicates that it may not upgrade the rest of the town before the end of 2016. Many businesses are forced to use wireless solutions to get the speeds they need.

“We are in the process of expanding our online eCommerce businesses and we have just moved to our new building eCom Park in Portarlington. We hope to be able to use the new facility to create a technology hub in Portarlington to allow web based business, especially start ups, to get established and thrive. Online is the way of the future and locating in a town like Portarlington gives huge cost advantages,” he said.

Waiting on a trolley in a Irish hospital linked to 30% increase in mortality,


The consultants’ association has claimed that patients are dying unnecessarily

The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association has claimed that patients are dying unnecessarily because of having to wait on a trolley in emergency departments.

At the association’s annual conference in Cork, its President Dr Gerard Crotty said many acute hospital departments are in crisis.

Dr Crotty said waiting on a trolley is linked to a 30% increase in mortality, according to studies.

Speaking at the conference in Cork, Dr Crotty said the health service was in intensive care, after suffering the cumulative effects of six years of cuts, the most severe in history.

He said crude frontline budget cuts were having disastrous effects on patients.

Many acute hospital departments were in crisis, or on the brink of collapsing, because consultants who have left cannot be replaced, he said.

In contrast, he said the State was paying €1m a day using agency staff, mainly because of a shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors and consultants.

Dr Crotty said there was an opportunity to start the process of restoring trust with the appointment of new leadership in the Department of Health.

Newly-appointed Department of Health Secretary General Jim Breslin told the conference that even if the health budget discussions for 2015 are successful, funding cannot meet all the priorities advanced by people.

Mr Breslin said that co-operation with change should be part of normal business for health staff, rather than being dependent on extra pay.

Meanwhile, the IHCA has confirmed that a number of consultants are to take High Court action against the State alleging breach of contract in not applying a pay increase in June 2009.

The association’s secretary general, Martin Varley, said he could not quantify the sum of money involved due to the various types of contracts and other factors.

Reducing Antarctic ice messing up the Earth’s gravity

  • Blame linked to climate change


The Earth’s gravity is messing up and global warming appears to be responsible. The warming climate has caused massive ice loss in West Antarctica in recent years and this phenomenon has caused the Earth’s gravity to be weaker there.

The findings were based on measurements made by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) satellite, which was developed to map the Earth’s gravitation field, and data from the Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission, a collaboration between the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the German Aerospace Center which aims to provide accurate mapping of variations in the gravity field of the Earth.

Changes in the earth’s mass cause the gravity to fluctuate in small ways but with the large scale melting of the ice sheets in West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012, the loss was large enough to result in changes in the Earth gravitational force pulling over the region, ESA revealed.

“Although not designed to map changes in Earth’s gravity over time, ESA’s extraordinary satellite has shown that the ice lost from West Antarctica over the last few years has left its signature,” ESA said in a statement.

By combining data from GOCE and GRACE, scientists learned that West Antarctica lose about 209 billion metric tons of ice from year 2009 to 2012, which could be largely blamed on the retreating glaciers. During this period, Pine Island Glacier shed 67 billion metric tons of ice annually. Thwaites Glacier and Getz Ice Shelf, on the other hand, lost 67 billion metric tons and 55 billion metric tons of ice respectively each year.

“Scientists can now look at changes in ice mass in small glacial systems,” ESA said. “They have found that the loss of ice from West Antarctica between 2009 and 2012 caused a dip in the gravity field over the region.”

GOCE has already provided several observations in the past that showed how gravity on Earth changes overtime. The satellite, for instance, has revealed that the earthquake that struck Japan in 2011 has left a mark in the gravity of the planet.

Besides messing with the Earth’s gravity, a number of extreme and unwanted phenomena that took place in recent years including the loss habitats, the declining population of wildlife and extreme weather events such as heat waves and storms are also largely attributed to climate change.

News Ireland daily BLOG by DONIE

Wednesday 8th January 2014

Irelands unemployment rate still falling


The unemployment rate has continued to fall slightly, reaching 12.4%, official figures have revealed.

The number of people signing on the live register for benefits fell by 28,322 over the course of last year with the total number of people on the dole at 395,411.

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar said he was encouraged by the latest unemployment figures, which he said showed declines over the last 16 months.

He said no one in their late teens or 20s should be “idle” and insisted it is up to the Government to deliver education and training opportunities for those out of work.

“The key thing we want to be able to offer every young person that is unemployed is a job, and if not we want to be able to offer them education or training,” Mr Varadkar said.

“Really nobody, particularly nobody in their late teens and 20s, should be idle and it’s the role of Government to make sure there are jobs to go to. And if not, there are education or training opportunities.”

The report from the Central Statistics Office also showed that the number of people signing on for a year or more was down 4% over the course of last year to 179,621.

The number of men on the register in December was 245,721 compared to 149,690 women.

It also showed under 25s on the dole now make up almost 15% of the total signing on and the figure has fallen by less than 1% over the course of the year.

The unemployment rate of 12.4% is the lowest since June 2009.

Business leaders welcomed the cut in unemployment but demanded the Government introduce concrete long-term measures to tackle joblessness.

Isme, which represents small and medium-sized firms, pointed out l ong-term claimants still account for a “stubborn” 45% of all those on the dole.

“Government must make reducing the high level of long-term unemployment its full year’s resolution,” said Mark Fielding, Isme chief executive.

“A key obstacle preventing people from returning to work and hindering the creation of employment by SMEs is the social welfare trap.

“Anomalies in the welfare system must be addressed immediately to create a business environment where it is always economically advantageous for people to work.”

High rents, wages and business costs along with increased black market activity and crime against traders were also hindering smaller businesses from growing and taking on more staff, claimed Mr Fielding.

Davy Stockbrokers said 2013 will be seen as a turning point in the unemployment crisis with job creation at its fastest since 2007.

Avine McNally, a cting director of the Small Firms Association, said emigration was influencing the number of young people on the dole and active labour policies are only part of the solution.

“A strong commitment and focus on education, growth and recovery is vital to ensure young people have future careers in Ireland,” she said.

Siptu economist Marie Sherlock said it is unclear how much the fall in the register is due to new jobs, training or emigration.

“Today’s figures also indicate the continuance of a worrying trend. Throughout 2012 and 2013, we have seen that men have been leaving the Live Register in considerably greater numbers than women,” she said.

“While the general decrease in Live Register numbers is a positive, focus must remain on ensuring the quality of training and employment which is being taken up is of a decent standard.

“A major step in this direction would be the introduction of an expanded and improved national apprenticeship scheme.”

Numbers of sick patients on Irish hospital trolleys Doubles in four days


The HSE has claimed the spike is a seasonal increase but a nurses union have said it’s unacceptable

The number of sick patients abandoned on trolleys in hospitals has doubled in just four days.

Shock new figures released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association show there were 467 patients left lying in emergency departments and wards last night.

The INMO said that of the 467 patients affected, 374 are on trolleys in emergency departments, while 93 are waiting in wards.

On the same day last year, there were 345 patients on trolleys in emergency departments.

The worst affected hospitals are Beaumont in Dublin, which has 49 patients waiting on trolleys, University Hospital Galway has 37 patients waiting and Midland Regional Tullamore, Co Offaly, with 33 patients.

Spokesman for the HSE, Ian Carter, blamed the spike on the seasonal increase in patient numbers.

He said: “We do tend to see a surge of patients, particularly after the Christmas period.

“A lot of those patients are elderly – meaning we have a lot of people entering the emergency department and a lot of patients being admitted to hospital.”

But head of the INMO, Liam Doran, slammed the health system and claimed the Government needs to take action immediately.

He said: “The suggestion that the overcrowding situation has improved isn’t borne out by the facts that when you combine the trolley [numbers] and ward watch, the figure is up by 2%.

“That’s a direct result of too few beds and too many patients.

“The health system is too small and the sooner the Government realises that the better and ends this overcrowding once and for all.”

Mr Doran also said that more funding was needed to open closed beds and to fund “step-down” beds and home care packages.

His views were echoed by Fianna Fail health spokesman, Billy Kelleher who called for investment in our crippled health system.

Mr Kelleher added: “The figures from INMO which show a year-on-year increase in the number of people on trolleys of 2% underscores how much strain there is on the health service and frontline staff across the country.

“I am particularly concerned about the increase in the number of frail elderly patients needing admission and being forced to wait on trolleys.

“Minister Reilly has utterly failed to provide the necessary resources to manage the seasonal increase this year and more severe cuts are being implement across the health service this year.

“The planned €620 million in cuts this year will further exacerbate the problems for patients, particularly as the health service is starting the year with a major budget overrun from last year.

“There is a need to increase investment in community beds to free up more beds in the hospital system as well as opening closed beds.”

New Irish car sales slow down by 6.4% in 2013  

CSO figures show


71,348 new private cars were licensed in the year to the end of December

New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that the number of new private cars licensed for the first time decreased by 17.4% to 639 in December compared to the same month the previous year.

The CSO figures show that in total, 71,348 new private cars were licensed in the year to the end of December, down 6.4% on the previous year.

Of the 71,348 new cars sold last year, 72.6% were diesel and 26.6% were petrol.

Today’s figures show that the most popular make of car last year was Volkswagen, with a total of 9,098 models sold. Toyota sold 7,180 cars, followed by Ford (7,032) and Hyundai (5,548).

The CSO also said that the number of used (imported) cars licensed for the first time in December rose by 13.9% to 271. But for the year, the number of used cars fell by 6.4% to 3,181.

The number of new goods vehicles licensed during the year rose by 1.6% to 11,024.

In total, the number of vehicles licensed last year was 164,043, up 13.1% on the 145,043 licensed in 2012.

Geo-engineering plan could have unintended side effects


Injecting aerosols into the stratosphere mimics the cooling effects of volcanoes

Attempts to reverse the impacts of global warming by injecting reflective particles into the stratosphere could make matters worse, say researchers.

A new study suggests the idea, seen as a last-ditch way to deal with runaway climate change, could cut rainfall in the tropics by 30%.

This would have devastating impacts on rainforests in South America and Asia

The concept of curbing rising temperatures by blocking sunlight has been discussed by scientists for many years now.

Some of the ideas have been dismissed as crazy notions, but others have been taken more seriously.

One of the most credible plans involves using reflective particles called aerosols to reflect solar radiation away from the Earth.

This happens naturally when volcanoes erupt, sending plumes of ash into the stratosphere, as with Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991.

Now a team at the University of Reading have modelled the impacts of a large-scale injection of sulphur dioxide particles at high altitudes around the equator.

“We have shown that one of the leading candidates for geoengineering could cause a new unintended side-effect over a large part of the planet,” said Dr Andrew Charlton-Perez, one of the co-authors of the paper.

The scientists found that as well as absorbing some of heat coming in from the Sun, the particles also absorb some of the heat energy that comes from the surface of the planet.

“The heating acts to stabilise the part of the atmosphere we live in, by making it more stable it reduces the upwelling of air,” said Dr Charlton-Perez.

“In the tropics much of the rainfall comes from air moving up rapidly, so this acts to reduce surface precipitation.”

Rainfall around the tropics could be cut by 30% with significant impacts on rainforests in South America and Asia and increasing drought in Africa.

The changes would happen so quickly there would be little time to adapt, say the researchers.

New mechanism

The scientists involved in the study believe that this is a new impact that others have missed until now.

“We modelled sulphate aerosols which is sort of an analogue for when you have a large volcanic eruption – but instead of putting aerosols into your model you can also just reduce the amount of solar radiation coming into your system,” said Dr Charlton-Perez.

“When you do that you don’t get these heating effects and you don’t get this slowdown and that’s important because some studies have done that but we think they are missing this mechanism.”

However some researchers have questioned the experiment and the findings.

“I know of no serious scientist who would advocate introducing 100 megatonnes of sulphur dioxide in a four degree warmer world,” said Dr Matt Watson, from the University of Bristol, who was previously involved in a British project to test this concept.

“To state that solar radiation management won’t work based on one extreme scenario smacks of hype rather than a serious discussion.”

Dr Charlton-Perez says that is a fair comment – but he believes his methodology and conclusions are sound.

“What we have done here is a very extreme scenario, we’ve put lots of CO2 into our model and we’ve geoengineered to counteract that.

“It is an extreme case, but by doing the extreme case we are able to isolate this effect much more clearly. We think this effect will go on, even if you geoengineer to a much lesser degree.”

Researchers around the world continue to explore different climate interventions that might be used in extreme circumstances. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in their recent report, acknowledged that every option should be considered.

But according to Prof Piers Forster, from the University of Leeds, the technologies are still in their infancy.

“At present, these injection technologies do not exist, even on paper, and this precludes an evaluation of realistic effectiveness or side effects.

“If we want to suppress global warming the only game in town at present is reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”