Cillian Sherlock, PA
Hospital consultants have criticised the Minister for Health’s plans for accelerated hospital bed delivery as being based on “outdated” and “underestimated” projection figures.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (ICHA) said it wanted clarification from Minister Stephen Donnelly on how his billion-euro plan would be delivered.
It comes after the Health Service Executive published an expression of interest last week for submissions for up to 1,500 beds across 15 hospital sites to be delivered during 2023 and 2024.
On Tuesday, Mr Donnelly said the Government’s delivery of acute hospital inpatient beds was actually “significantly ahead” of targets set out in a 2018 capacity review.
That review found the need for 2,590 extra hospital beds by 2031 including around 2,100 inpatient, 300 day case and 190 adult critical care beds.
IHCA president Professor Robert Landers gave a qualified welcome the 1,500 additional beds.
“These beds are long overdue and stem from the 2018 Capacity Review and two subsequent National Development Plans for 2018-2027 and 2021-2023,” he said.
“However, we know these plans are outdated and bed projection figures are underestimated.”
The IHCA said 5,000 additional beds are needed by 2030, with at least another 2,000 permanent consultants.
“While the 1,500 rapid build beds are badly needed, we also believe the Minister for Health must plan now to deliver 5,000 beds by 2030.”
The HSE is also still currently in the process of delivering approximately 200 beds of the 1,228 that were due to be delivered in 2021 and 2022.
The ICHA said just 157 acute hospital beds were added to the system in 2022 and only 196 additional approved permanent consultant posts were filled.
“Furthermore, the Government only plans to deliver 209 additional inpatient beds in 2023 and has already missed its target for the end of 2022 by around 260 beds that are yet to open,” it said.
The IHCA called on the minister to work with health service management and consultant representative bodies to put in place a “clear staffing plan” in parallel to the proposed bed-build programme.
Prof Landers said: “Government must take a whole-of-service approach.
“To ensure this new initiative is successful, they must work in parallel with hospital management and medical specialists to put in place a clear, time-bound and fully funded staffing plan, so that when this new rapid build capacity comes on stream, there are the consultants, doctors, nurses, porters and others needed to ensure we are providing care to patients in those beds from day one.”
The IHCA said Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of acute hospital beds in the EU, 40 per cent below the EU27 average of 4.83 per 1,000 population.
“Bed capacity has in fact decreased on a population basis from 3.03 beds in 2008 to just 2.68 beds in 2022,” it said.
“Ireland also has one of the highest hospital bed occupancy rates in the developed world.”
The IHCA also said it is concerned that the HSE Capital Plan for 2023 also released this week does not make provisions to reflect the billion-euro rapid build capacity plan.