The number of critical care hospital beds has fallen sharply over the past six years despite a recommendation to double capacity.
The shortage of intensive care beds was highlighted this week at the inquest of Dhara Kivlehan, who died in September 2010 after giving birth a week earlier in Sligo Regional Hospital.
Ms Kivlehan was moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast after no bed could be found in the intensive care units of three hospitals in the Republic.
A year before her death a HSE-commissioned report recommended a 45 per cent increase in the number of critical care beds from 289 to 418. Prospectus Consultants said a further increase to 579 beds was needed in the years up to 2020. However, far from increasing, the number has fallen from 289 to 233 at the present time.
The HSE sought to provide an extra 10 critical care beds in the service plan for this year, at a cost of €3 million a year, but was forced to scrap the plan because of funding cuts in last year's budget, correspondence between the HSE and the Department of Health shows.
The HSE says it is implementing a “critical care bed bureau” to optimise utilisation of beds nationally by providing live information on bed occupancy in all units.
However, Ms Kivlehan’s husband Michael said an internal report a few weeks after his wife’s death in 2010 recommended such a national system be put in place.
The HSE was unable to say yesterday why there was such a delay in implementing this recommendation.
None of the Republic’s 19 maternity units has an intensive care unit.
Speaking in the Dáil on Tuesday, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said while Ireland needed more obstetricians than the 120 available, this was more per head than Canada and New Zealand.