HSE aims for 440 extra hospital beds for winter

Health executive proposes additional resources to help ease overcrowding pressures

 Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

 

The HSE hopes to open an additional 440 hospital beds during the winter to help ease overcrowding pressures, according to its director general, Tony O’Brien.

Plans to open up an additional 300 beds have already been announced but Mr O’Brien said the HSE aimed to open a further 140 beds that are currently closed for essential upgrades and infection control.

The HSE began its winter planning process earlier this year with a view to having plans in place in every hospital by the end of September, Mr O’Brien told the Oireachtas health committee. The plans address capacity and escalation challenges to deal effectively with surge requirements, he said.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said the extra beds would be opened in November and December and Mr O’Brien would be visiting the worst affected hospitals to see what could be done to address blockages such as diagnostics and rapid access to outpatients.

He said the beds were in 29 different locations and 26 of these were “on track”. It was inevitable that not every single bed would be opened as “we’re going to run into some issues somewhere”.

“It’s also clear that we need more weekend discharges, and more evening ward rounds to reduce length of stay, and also senior decision makers reviewing patients shortly after or before admission, in order to reduce unnecessary admissions and length of stay.”

Mr Varadkar spending pressures were arising in a number of areas, particularly hospital expenditure, demand led schemes and legal settlements.

He said it was not yet possible to quantify the exact size of the supplementary estimate health would need at the end of the year, but there would be one.

Real progress was being made on recruitment, he told the committee. The number of consultants employed in the year to date was up 72 net, and vacancies have fallen to 170.

Since the Government came to office, there were an additional 1,000 non-consultant hospital doctors in employment.

“While it remains the case that it is hard to fill vacancies in some specialities and hospitals, overall the picture is now improving.”

Fianna Fáil spokesman Billy Kelleher said the health budget was going to overrun by at least €500 million again this year, showing there was a consistent problem assessing its financial requirements.

He said the problem of overcrowding was so bad that patients were being “prepped” for oncology treatment in hospital corridors in Letterkenny and other hospitals.