Government in the dark over plan for the provision of hospital beds


No decision has been taken by the Government or the Department of Health on how or where new acute hospital beds will be provided after this year. The Department is also uncertain about the eventual cost of the 709 beds which the Government has promised to deliver this year. Given the time required to build new facilities, the lack of planning by this Government makes it highly unlikely that the incoming government will be able to provide significant additional beds next year, healthcare experts suggest.

Although all the political parties, including the Government parties, have produced costings for capital investment in healthcare over the next five years, they are doing so without any knowledge of whether new beds will require the building of new greenfield hospitals or will be provided by the extension of existing hospitals. All parties are agreed that the provision of thousands more acute hospital beds is essential.

A briefing note supplied to the Labour Party by the Department of Health last month says that of the 3,000 beds promised in the national health strategy last November "the report on the acute bed capacity published last January did not go into detail on where the above beds would be located nor how they will be split by speciality. This work will be carried through this year in discussion between acute hospitals division and the health boards. Other work needs to be done on how the 3,000 beds could be delivered e.g. should there be a dedicated day hospital elective facility specialising in big ticket items such as orthopaedics and ENT". The Department supplied the Labour Party with costings, on which Labour has based its health investment plans.

However, the note cautioned: "Over the next 12 months a total of 709 beds are being delivered as part of the 3,000. The revenue and capital costs of these beds in 2002 are estimated at €40m and €25m respectively but these estimates may have to be changed depending on the progress and type of work that needs to be done to achieve this target."