Doctor calls for clarity around the number of ICU beds available this winter

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Vivienne Clarke

Intensive care consultant Dr Catherine Motherway has called for clarity over the exact number of intensive care beds that will be opened up under the Government’s Winter Plan.

The former president of the Intensive Care Society said she was uncertain whether the 17 ICU beds mentioned in the plan were additional or part of the extra capacity created during the pandemic.

There was also the issue of how the beds were to be funded and if they could be staffed, she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

The extra intensive care and high dependency beds created in March had been provided with temporary funding, she said and there was an urgent need to know what funding will remain and how such beds will be staffed given the scarcity of intensive care nurses and the length of time it takes to train such staff.


Intensive care beds were very expensive to run because of the staffing levels required, explained Dr Motherway. The staff to patient ratio in ICU is 1:1, in a high dependency bed it is 1:2 and on a ward it could be 1:6. The staffing level required in ICU could be very difficult to maintain.

Dr Motherway also expressed concern about the cancellation of surgeries because of Covid-19, this could mean a reduction in ‘good outcomes’ for some patients, she warned.

Health professionals could only respond to what was happening in the community, she said, which was why the public response was important, everyone needed to be as responsible as they could, washing their hands, observing social distancing and keeping contacts to a minimum.

“We need clarity on the extra beds, where they are so we can recruit.” Dr Motherway pointed out that if the beds were required in Dublin it could be difficult to get staff as there was a shortage of accommodation in Dublin and it was more expensive than elsewhere in the country.

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