Reilly rules out reprieve on hospital bed cuts


HOSPITAL BEDS which have been closed may remain shut for some time until the exchequer’s finances improve, Minister for Health James Reilly has said.

However, he pledged additional resources would be provided where genuine capacity issues were identified.

He said following an investigation by his department’s special delivery unit, he had sanctioned an additional 11 medical beds for Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.

Speaking after an address to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation’s (INMO) annual conference in Killarney, the Minister again warned that work practices across the health service would have to change.

He said that over the last year, as a result of changed working practices for consultants – which saw some doing ward rounds on Saturdays – more than 70,000 bed days had been saved by allowing patients to be discharged earlier. He said this had generated savings of €63 million.

He said the target for this year was to save 100,000 bed days.

Dr Reilly said that to maintain the service on a reduced budget with fewer staff “we have to change the way we operate”.

“We need to use the full range of staff we have. Doctors have to let go of some of the work they have been doing historically because nurses can do that work.

“Nurses have to let go some of their work because others can do it – healthcare assistants, physiotherapists and others.”

The Minster said he was “very much listening” to the INMO in its views on a new role for nurses.

“There are lots of different things we can do to change the way we practise. We have heard consultants in the past complain that they can do nine cataracts [operations] on a Saturday in a private institution and only do nine all week in a public institution.

“There are lots of things we have to change and it is not the fault of staff.

It is down to a system . . .”

Dr Reilly also said he wanted to see Irish medical and nursing graduates working in Ireland. He said there was a need to match manpower to training. A study would be undertaken “so we are not training nurses where we do not have jobs for them”.

The Minister also told the conference that under new targets patients should not have to spend more than nine hours in an emergency department.

The INMO’s outgoing president Sheila Dickson told the Minister not to lecture nurses about the state of the economy.

“We are the families, with ordinary incomes, that are living this reality. We are the families that have intimate experience of family members who are unemployed . . . we certainly do not need to be lectured by a Government that pays its advisers above the stated salary cap and sometimes over three times what many nurses and midwives receive after being qualified for over 20 years.” She said the question was not whether the ordinary people understood the current economic situation but rather whether the Government understood the hurt and damage the recession was causing to people who never did anything wrong.

Ms Dickson also warned that the “long goodbye” of the HSE before its abolition under Government health reforms was corrosive, damaging and inexcusable.

Last night Dr Reilly addressed the annual general meeting of the Irish College of General Practitioners in Galway. Addressing concern from members about cuts in Government payments and a drop in income, he said he wanted general practice to be “a solid career”.

He added that Government policies were helping to achieve this, citing the elimination of restrictions on GPs wishing to obtain contracts to treat public patients under certain schemes.

“This legislation should encourage more young GPs to remain in Ireland and to establish their practices here, and will make it more attractive for GPs to move here from abroad.”