Donnelly pledges extra 1,500 hospital beds and calls for change to work practices

IMO signals ‘capacity crisis’ contributing to more deaths because patients being treated in overcrowded hospitals

An extra 1,500 hospital beds may be made available across the country following Government discussions, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly will tell an Oireachtas committee on Wednesday.

Mr Donnelly will appear before the Oireachtas Committee on Health to update TDs on the current situation inside hospitals countrywide.

Earlier this month, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) warned that health service overcrowding is leading to unnecessary patient deaths.

‘Care settings’

IMO president Dr John Cannon said “tragically, it is inevitable that this capacity crisis is contributing to increased avoidable mortality because patients are being treated in overcrowded hospitals or treatment is being delayed in primary or secondary care settings as capacity cannot meet patient need.”


Mr Donnelly, in his opening statement, will tell the committee that in the last three years, the Government has added nearly 1,000 hospital beds, 410 community beds and 65 critical care beds. Some 261 acute beds and 16 critical care beds are expected to be provided under the capital programme 2023.

“In addition, I am in discussions with Government colleagues on a proposal to expedite the construction and delivery of 1,500 additional hospital beds,” he will say.

Mr Donnelly will also call for “changes to working practices” in the public health service to ensure more senior staff are on-site in hospitals.

“This includes having senior decision makers on site more often, both in hospitals and community care. We have seen the positive impact this can have. We need to ensure strong connections between the acute and community sector, which is being addressed in part by the move to regional health areas. We need to see more discharge options available to some hospitals. We need a consistency in approach to patient flow, with what’s being seen in the best-performing hospitals becoming the norm.”

Mr Donnelly will tell politicians that he has visited emergency departments countrywide to hear first-hand the experiences of patients and healthcare workers.

“I have seen the distress that overcrowding causes for patients, their families and frontline staff … I have listened carefully to the solutions being proposed for overcrowding in these hospitals.”

Covid impact

Hospital waiting lists are too long in too many hospitals and too many specialties, he will say.

“Waiting lists were far too long before Covid, and were made worse by Covid around the world. In Ireland, waiting lists for scheduled care increased by nearly 60 per cent between 2015 and 2021.

“In late 2021, as the worst effects of Covid began to recede, we began to tackle the waiting lists in a meaningful way. We are now in the middle of a multiannual approach to achieving the maximum wait times of 10 and 12 weeks, as agreed by all parties in 2017. As a result of these efforts, last year saw an 11 per cent reduction in patients waiting longer than these targets. That’s 56,000 people. In fact, from the Covid peak to the end of last year, 150,000 less people were waiting longer than the agree maximum waiting times.”

Last month Mr Donnelly announced a waiting list plan with funding of €363 million to remove 1.66 million patients from waiting lists. “This is projected to result in a reduction of 10 per cent to the number of people on waiting lists,” notes Mr Donnelly’s opening statement.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times