Minister orders review of hospital bed capacity

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said his department is to order a review of bed capacity in hospitals to try to bring the number of working nurses to "adequate levels" writes David Raleigh.

His comments come after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) last week called for bed closures at University Hospital Limerick, claiming there were not enough nurses to manage existing workload.

Following the closure of emergency departments (EDs) at St John’s Hospital, Limerick; Ennis in Clare; and Nenagh in Tipperary, all medical emergencies are catered for at UHL, with serious head trauma cases transferred to Cork University Hospital.

Speaking today, the Health Minister, who recently visited the Limerick ED, described conditions there as "shocking".

Responding to nurses calls for bed closures at UHL, he said: "We're going to address this by carrying out a bed capacity review, where we are going to look at all of our bed stock right throughout our hospitals, and indeed throughout our community primary healthcare settings."

The Minister said increased funds for Health, outlined in Budget 2017, "does provide for an additional 1,000 nurses within the health service in 2017", and he said nurses pay would rise between €1,000-€1,500 from January.

"We need our nurses back; it is a process that is going to take time," he said.

"We've seen nursing numbers increase but they're not back to the level which we want.

"I want to work with the INMO and all stakeholders to increase our numbers to adequate levels."

Meanwhile, the minister said no final decision on funding had yet been made regarding the proposed transfer of maternity services from the old Ennis Road hospital to the UHL campus.

"All of these issues are going to be looked at in the context of the Capital Plan which is being reviewed next year.

"In terms of final decision in relation to capital and all those decisions will be made in the context of the government's review next year.

"We've got to do better for women and their children in terms of maternity services and that project in Limerick is a priority, but a final degree of clarity and a timeline will become apparent early next year."

The INMO has estimated that up to 350 nurses are required in Limerick city. However, the HSE has said just 62 posts need to be filled, excluding temporary vacancies arising from maternity leave.

A plan to recruit 100 more nurses to work out of a new ED in Limerick, which is expected to be completed next May, is continuing.

Trolley figures at UHL reached an all-time high last month, hitting the mid-50s - while, according to INMO figures this afternoon, UHL had 29 patients on trolleys, the highest number across EDs around the country.

Last week, five non-emergency procedures were cancelled at UHL due to the ongoing trolley crisis in the Limerick ED.

University Hospital Limerick later released a statement, saying it is "constantly recruiting" nurses to fill vacant posts.

"The ED in University Hospital Limerick is one of the busiest in the country with over 60,000 attendances annually," the statement read.

"The numbers presenting continues to increase year-on-year and of those presenting, the proportion requiring admission, including many frail elderly patients, has also increased."

"UL Hospitals Group, in common with other healthcare providers in Ireland and all over the developed world, faces a significant challenge in meeting the global shortage of nurses.

"UL Hospitals Group is constantly recruiting to fill new and replacement nursing posts.

"The Group has just recently embarked on a major recruitment campaign focused on the new ED due to open next year."

"The overall nursing staffing deficit at present is 62 vacant posts across the group.

"This figure does not include temporary vacancies arising from maternity leave.

"The number of vacancies will reduce with the employment of pre-registered nurses commencing throughout October 2016."

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