The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, has hit back at claims he has no plan to deal with “outrageous” levels of patient overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).
In a lengthy statement, Mr Harris responded to stinging criticism from Sinn Féin TD, Maurice Quinlivan, about the ongoing trolley crisis as well as his concerns over the construction of a 60-bed temporary unit at the Limerick hospital.
Statistics published by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) showed that at 8am this morning there were 479 admitted patients waiting for beds at hospitals around the country.
UHL was the most overcrowded hospital with (64) patients on trolleys, followed by University Hospital Galway (44); Cork University Hospital (41); Letterkenny University Hospital (36); and South Tipperary General (34).
Mr Quinlivan said patient overcrowding had “engulfed UHL” this summer.
He said a record “3,323 ill patients have been forced to wait on trolleys at the hospital in the first three months of the summer - the highest number anywhere in the state”.
He described an unannounced visit to UHL, by Mr Harris, last August, as a “secret dash in and out”, but that “there hasn’t been a peep from him since about how he intends to deal with the crisis that has overwhelmed our local hospital”.
“The disregard shown by this government for patients and staff in UHL has been astonishing. This situation cannot continue.“
Mr Quinlivan claimed that “graduating nurses and midwives have not been offered employment in Limerick”.
“A number of graduates have contacted me, concerned and upset that they will not be able to work in the hospital where they trained and one that is close to their community,” he added.
“The recruitment ban on full-time staff is a ridiculous policy from the government and the HSE, and it is driving young nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals to emigrate.”
Mr Quinlivan also expressed concerns about the HSE awarding a contract to Western Building Systems, to construct a 60-bed unit at UHL, costing €19.5m.
A permanent 96-bed unit has also been sought by UHL management.
Western Building Systems is being sued by the Department of Education after it built a number of schools which were later found to have structural defects.
Mr Quinlivan said he “won't hold my breath” for a response from Mr Harris over whether or not the minister had received assurances from the company “that no building defects, such as those that have appeared in over 40 state schools the same company have constructed, will be present in the new wing of University Hospital Limerick”.
A spokeswoman for Mr Harris responded: “The Minister made an unannounced visit to UHL a number of weeks ago and spoke to patients, their families and indeed staff about the challenges in the hospital. Increasing bed capacity is key to addressing overcrowding and that is why the HSE capital plan published this week commits to the 60-bed ward and the 96-bed modular unit.”
The spokeswoman said: “it would be highly inappropriate for the Minister to intervene in a contract awarded by the HSE through the public procurement system”.
“However, the HSE has assured it has appointed a technical advisor team who are supervising the contractor’s design and construction works and who ensure compliance with the contract requirements. In addition, the local HSE Estates staff, including engineers and clerk of works, will oversee and monitor the construction project.”
The 60-bed unit “comprising of four stories, with three wards of 20 en-suite single rooms, will go some way towards addressing the acknowledged lack of bed capacity in the region,” they said.
The minister’s spokeswoman clarified “there is no national recruitment embargo or moratorium in place in the HSE”.
They added: “With regards to offers of contracts in specific hospitals on graduation, the Minister's position has not changed. Every graduate nurse and midwife should be offered a position in the Irish health service.”
“This needs to be done in the context of the overall HSE recruitment budget.“
A statement by Western Building Systems last August said it “continues to be awarded and deliver important public and private contracts in Ireland and the UK including University Hospital Limerick which is set for completion in April 2020”.
“We note comments from the HSE last year when it stated ‘there are currently no safety concerns regarding the integrity of its buildings in relation to construction works carried out by Western Buildings Systems at this time’”.