Harney says 900 beds in acute hospitals closed


ALMOST 900 beds in acute hospitals were closed up to the beginning of this month, Minister for Health Mary Harney told the Dáil.

She said “892 inpatient beds and 19 day beds were closed for reasons of infection control, refurbishment or cost-containment”. This was from a total of 11,800 inpatient beds and 1,800 day beds in the public hospital system.

Many procedures which once required stays in hospital could be provided now on a day-case basis when “the average cost of an inpatient bed is €889 a day or €324,485 a year”.

Kathleen Lynch (Labour, Cork North Central) said “last night there were 31 people on trolleys in Cork University Hospital”.

She said “we will still need beds in hospitals for the people who will still need to be in hospital”.

Ms Harney said the hospital system increasingly relied on day-case activity to provide treatment, but there were “huge variations in performance”. Tallaght hospital “does best in the treatment of hernias, with 84 per cent treated on a day-case basis”.

She said Mayo “had 16 per cent day rates, and an average stay of three days for its 138 patients.”

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly said “hernias are more common among older people, and I do not doubt social isolation, age, lack of carers and remoteness play a large part in explaining why patients cannot be treated on a day-case basis.”

He said bed numbers had reduced from 18,000 in 1990 to fewer than 11,000 now “despite a population increase of 750,000 during the same period”.

There had been repeated calls for “rehabilitation facilities so that people can move to the next phase of treatment after leaving hospital”, said Dr Reilly.

The Minister acknowledged the shortage of rehabilitation facilities, which she said “could be provided in a more localised environment and an enormous amount of work has been done” but deficits remained.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin highlighted abuses by consultants in the ratio of treatment of public versus private patients.

“Clinical directors and hospital managers have had to write to almost 300 consultants regarding blatant breaches of contractual obligations on the ratio of public to private practice,” said Mr Ó Caoláin

Ms Harney said “consultants are obliged to meet the terms of their contracts, and it is a matter for hospitals and the HSE to pursue breaches”.