Hundreds of beds set to close at acute wards


HUNDREDS OF beds are expected to be closed by the Health Service Executive at acute hospitals across the State next year in a bid to cut costs and transform the way hospital services are run.

The proposal to close up to 1,100 beds is included in the HSE’s draft service plan for 2010 which is due to come before a meeting of the HSE board today.

The bed closures, if implemented, will be in addition to at least 900 bed closures in 2009.

There were also reports yesterday that the draft plan was suggesting cutting the number of patients admitted to hospital by 54,000 this year.

It is also understood to warn that additional cuts in services in some areas could take place if there is no agreement with trade unions on reform measures. Unions have ruled out any co-operation with the change programme in protest at pay cuts introduced in the Budget.

The plan is understood to have been discussed at talks between The Minister for Health Mary Harney and HSE chief executive Prof Brendan Drumm last night. If it is approved by the HSE board today it will be formally sent to Ms Harney. She will have 21 days to accept it or seek amendments.

Hospitals across the State were given an opportunity to have an input into the 2010 service plan for their region, and these regional plans were ultimately fed into the national plan.

A document seen by The Irish Timesshows a number of ward closures were suggested at Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, when the Louth Meath Hospital Group made its proposals in December for service reductions in light of reduced funding for next year.

The document marked “strictly private and confidential” said options for achieving savings could include closing three wards at Navan hospital. It said a medical ward could close and if surgery was transferred to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda two additional wards in Navan could also be closed in 2010. It also suggested looking at the savings that could be achieved from transferring medicine to Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown, Dublin.

It also refers to doing more day surgery procedures so that the costs of overnight stays in hospital could be avoided.

Controversially, the draft proposals also questioned whether elective orthopaedic surgery would remain at Navan hospital. “If elective orthopaedics remains at OLH (Our Lady’s Hospital Navan) in 2010 plan to maintain 2008 level of activity within reduction in budget,” it says.

Other cost-cutting measures proposed included “removing services from Dundalk” and the document says “we accept that there are political and other considerations that affect the reduction in services in Dundalk” before going on to state that the following could be carried out during 2010:

  • reduce the hours of the Louth County Hospital emergency department
  • immediately bring ICU and CCU (critical care unit) services to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital 
  • centralise ancillary services.

Meanwhile, the document says the heads of departments and directors of nursing have been told to plan to deliver services in 2010 “without the provision of agency staff”. Agency and locum staff cost the Louth/Meath hospital group over €11 million in 2009.

It is not known how many of the cost-cutting proposals suggested will be incorporated into the HSE’s final service plan for 2010 as the plan was drafted before the Budget day announcement that significant funding for next year would be generated by public sector pay cuts, thereby reducing the need for health services to be reduced as radically as originally envisaged. A HSE spokeswoman stressed last night that its service plan was in draft form and had yet to be approved by the HSE board.