Harris has no date for extra beds as trolley numbers rise

The schedule for opening extra winter beds to ease hospital overcrowding still remains unclear despite a worrying rise in patients on trolleys yesterday.

Health Minister Simon Harris was unable to say when the promised 79 extra beds would be available other than to repeat that “they will come on stream between now and early 2019”.

He admitted he was worried about the inability of hospitals to cope with an influx of winter patients.

It comes as the HSE’s own figures show 312 patients were on trolleys yesterday, a 35.65pc rise over the same day last year.

Of these, 163 were waiting over nine hours for a bed – a worsening scenario compared to 115 last year.

Figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which include patients on trolleys who were moved to wards, showed 449 in all were in need of a bed with 51 patients on trolleys at the worst hit, University Hospital Limerick.

Others struggling to find beds were Cork University Hospital, where 42 were on trolleys, and Letterkenny Hospital, which had 38 patients suffering delays. Mr Harris who was speaking in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, where he opened a new cataract surgical centre, told reporters: “I say this respectfully, everybody asks am I worried about winter approaching.

“I’m actually worried about the capacity of the health service every day of the week.

“We need to front-load that as much as we can. This year, so far, we have opened 240 extra hospital beds. We have about 79 more to come on stream between now and early 2019.”

He said he expected a 40-bed “modular” unit would open in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, in the first quarter of 2019.

“We’ve allocated an additional €10m, between now and the end of the year, to the HSE, to provide more home care and more transitional care beds, to try and get patients in and out of hospitals as quickly as possible,” he said.

“More beds” he said was the “clear” solution to the crisis, however the minister acknowledged ongoing “challenges” in recruiting and retaining staff.

There is a “package of measures through the public service pay commission” to try and attract and retain nurses and doctors.

In relation to new entry consultants, who want full pay parity with long-serving colleagues, he said he hoped the Government could sit down and work out a way of keeping our medical talent here in Ireland “where we need them”.

The minister acknowledged a need for more capacity in the acute hospital setting, and more step down facilities, and more primary care.

“This winter will be a challenge, as every winter is, as everyday is,” he said.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has warned that 2018 is forecast to be the worst year ever for hospital patient overcrowding, with 100,000 expected to have been on trolleys by the end of December.

Mr Harris said a number of measures would be, and were being put in place to try to tackle the crisis.

He announced that a 60-bed modular unit would likely be constructed on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick by this time next year to help alleviate pressures on the hospital’s emergency department as an “interim” measure.

The hospital has consistently had the highest number of patients on trolleys nationally.

Management at Limerick have also sought a permanent 96-single bed unit, but while the proposed unit is included in the Government’s capital investment plan, there is no confirmed construction timeline on it.

Despite a €25m emergency department opening at Limerick last year, the trolley crisis there, as it is like at hospitals around the country, continues unabated.

The Irish Independent reported yesterday the new winter beds will be shared by only four hospitals.

The share-out includes 30 beds for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, and a 40-bed modular ward block in South Tipperary General Hospital.

There will be four high- dependency beds in the Mater Hospital in Dublin and four others in Cork University Hospital.

The HSE said an additional 240 beds were added last winter and earlier this year, including 29 beds in Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda, and 22 in St Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin. Twenty-four have been added at the Mater Hospital and 23 to St James’s, both in Dublin. Other hospitals that have received the much-needed beds in the last round included University Hospital Limerick, and Galway University Hospital.

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