Thirty-four new beds are to be opened at Cork University Hospital (CUH) under the HSE’s Winter Plan with additional beds also due to be opened at the Mercy University Hospital.
The beds are among 483 acute beds, 89 sub-acute beds and 17 additional critical care beds which the HSE plans to open around the country over the course of what it expects will be a “very difficult” winter.
Under the new Winter Plan, published today, the HSE also intends to provide additional rehabilitation beds, including some in Cork; additional home support packages; additional HSE procured private bed capacity; additional intermediate care beds; and additional Community Healthcare Networks and Community Specialist Teams.
While there are currently seven ‘Community Assessment Hubs’; in operation nationally, including one at the St. Mary's Health Campus in Cork, the HSE aims to have 20 hubs available nationally between January and March.
Announcing details of the plan, CEO of the HSE Mr. Paul Reid said this winter is going to be “more difficult than any we’ve ever faced” before.
“We are living with Covid-19, we are living differently, however we have planned differently and we have to take confidence in our Winter Plan. By ensuring agility and innovative healthcare measures, we can prioritise the health and wellbeing of our staff and the public, through the provision of healthcare pathways in the community and in our hospitals.
“I am asking the public to follow the public health advice, the worst thing we can do is to get complacent. I am also asking those within the priority groups to ensure they get the flu vaccine and give themselves the best opportunity to stay well this winter.”
Anne O Connor, HSE Chief Operations Officer said that a Community First approach to the delivery of care will be central to delivering safe, efficient and effective services through winter and beyond. “Service delivery will be re-oriented towards general practice, primary care and community-based services,” she said.
The plan has been met with some disappointment by bodies representing healthcare organisations.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) welcomed additional funding and planned bed capacity increases, but cautioned that any extra capacity requires extra staffing.
INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said: “Without a plan for extra staffing, the winter plan will simply not work. Extra hospital beds are much needed, but they are meaningless and dangerous if not properly staffed and resourced.
“For months now, we have sought a funded workforce plan from the HSE, setting out how many nurses and midwives they intend to hire in the health service. We are still awaiting any engagement – something we have referred to the WRC as a dispute.
“This Winter Plan brings welcome investment, but absolutely zero clarity on how we will recruit and retain the staff to provide care.”
The Irish Medical Organisation’s (IMO) President, Dr. Padraig McGarry, said while increased resources are welcome, they must be judged against the unprecedented scale of the challenges facing the health services over the coming months.
“Facing into the first full Winter of Covid 19, exhausted and worried after six months of non-stop pressure, our members believe that this moment demands more than temporary measures or clever “workarounds” to manage what promises to be a herculean challenge.
“Now is the time to seriously invest in long term sustainable solutions for our health services. We must have a properly resourced service to keep our population well and to enable economic recovery. We are now paying the price for repeatedly long-fingering solutions to the crises in respect of beds and recruitment which have been festering for a decade…that is now directly restricting our ability to meet the health service demands of the Covid 19 era,” he said.