BED spaces are to be reduced at a number of community hospitals and nursing units in Cork and some facilities will not be able to accept new admissions for some time.
In response to queries from, the HSE has confirmed that a number of beds will be removed from community hospitals and nursing units in Cork in the coming months, as it progresses with a refurbishment and building programme across centres, as part of a rolling Capital Plan investment.
While the move has been described as “logical”, there are concerns over its impact on families already struggling to find places for their loved ones.
In a statement, the HSE noted that all residential facilities must move to a situation before the end of 2021 where no more than four residents share a bedroom and there is adequate living space to cater for people’s privacy and dignity.
The statement said measures needed to stop the spread of Covid-19 are also impacting on the number of bed spaces and the organisation of services.
It said that no facility will close, and the long-term future of all of its residential facilities is secure.
“The jobs of all of our valued staff are secure, and staffing ratios will not be reduced and we will consult with unions where we have to re-organise our staff across services,” it said.
It also emphasised that “no resident will be asked to leave what is their home”.
“These measures will allow us to take the steps which we now know are necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19, and to keep our staff and residents safe. Where building work is undertaken, we will do everything possible to minimise disruption to residents," it said.
No detailed information was available on how many beds will be removed, or all of the facilities which are affected, however, it is known that occupancy will be reduced at both Clonakilty and Midleton community hospitals as works get underway at those two facilities.
"We are currently engaging with staff, unions and employee representative bodies. The Directors of Nursing in each facility are currently involved in a process of reviewing safe occupancy. What we can say is that for about 18 months, there will be a temporarily reduced level of public residential service available to some local communities. However, work will be underway to restore the overall number of beds in purpose-built and compliant centres as quickly as possible.”
The statement said that in order to balance any beds that are temporarily unavailable, the HSE will be offering more home support packages and working to keep people in their own homes.
Cork GP and city councillor, Dr John Sheehan said he believed the move was a ‘logical step” but admitted it would bring “significant challenges”.
“I think it’s a logical step and it's a welcome step to move away from the old, what’s called, ‘Nightingale’ wards where you had many residents in a ward. We’ve learned from Covid that those wards pose an increased risk for residents in terms of picking up Covid so moving to a situation where there is a lower level of occupancy in a room, four to a room max and single rooms, I think is the way to go.”
Dr Sheehan said however that given there is already a shortage of community nursing beds in the community and that will pose a challenge.
“I know they’ve opened up some temporary facilities in St Mary’s Health campus at the moment and that’s to be welcomed, but we may need more, particularly with the Covid crisis and we may need to look at that extra capacity while this is going on.
“I think having those two challenges at the same time poses a significant challenge and we need to look at how we are going to address long-term care in the community,” he said.
The Cork GP said families were already finding it difficult to get a bed in a long term care facility and this could add further strain.
“We need to look and see is there anything that can be put in temporarily to bridge that gap while these things are in place over the next 18 months,” he said.
Cork South West Independent TD Michael Collins said he was aware of many cases already where people could not find a bed in the local community hospital.
“They might have to travel 30 or 40 miles away from where they live...and they are sent to communities that they never lived in or had any association with at any time in their lives. It’s a stressful situation - their loved ones can't go to visit them because of Covid, they can't go to visit them because they are so far away,” he said.
The Cork TD said he believes the HIQA requirement to have occupancy reduced should have been introduced prior to now.
“It was a solvable situation, but unfortunately it was left neglected,” he said.