The Department of Health has sought re-assurances from the Rotunda Hospital that infants in its intensive care unit are receiving safe and appropriate care, the Dáil has heard.
The move follows the Dublin maternity hospital’s master Prof Fergall Malone saying that the lives of newborns were at risk there because of overcrowding.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the department had sought information about the hospital's plans to address the issues after TDs described wider plans to deal with the increase in patient numbers over the winter months as a "sham".
He highlighted an Irish Times report in which Prof Malone said the lack of space at the State’s busiest hospital was increasing the risk of infection and also putting infants’ lives at risk.
Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary raised the case of a critically ill baby who was flown by helicopter from a regional hospital to the Rotunda but had to wait four hours because a specialist bed was not available. He said the story reflected the chaos and danger that arises in Ireland's hospitals.
Mr Calleary also highlighted a case in Galway where a 74-year-old woman was assaulted by another patient while she was on a hospital trolley. He said the woman fell from the trolley and broke her hip. She later died.
He said Peamount hospital in Co Dublin cannot open 55 beds because it has no staff to cover them but that the Government continued to deny there was a moratorium on health service recruitment.
“The only place there isn’t a moratorium is in the spin department of Minister (for Health Simon) Harris’s department,” he said.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty told the Tánaiste that the Government does not "get the scale of the crisis" of overcrowding in hospital emergency departments. Mr Doherty highlighted comments by Prof Malone on how "the dignity of patients doesn't seem to resonate with decision makers".
He said the Government had announced the opening of 20 beds in Letterkenny hospital but 10 remained empty because of staff shortages.
The Donegal TD said it was “not rocket science” to say that the Government needed to end the moratorium on recruitment and hire staff.
The Tánaiste rejected the claims that the winter plan was spin and said an extra €26 million had been committed to assist health staff already under pressure to deal with additional patients this winter.
The intention was to try to keep people out of hospital, or to discharge them in a more timely way where possible to more appropriate step-down facilities or their homes, Mr Coveney said. An extra million home help hours would also be provided next year, he said.
“We’re asking the HSE in developing service plans to anticipate the full cost of opening beds including the cost of increased staff as well as capital costs,” he said. “That is how you manage a health system. What you can’t do is come in at the end of the year and say we have to get more resources to take on more staff.”
The Government had budgeted for significantly more staff “but we have to operate within budgets”, he said.