Simon Harris to review bed capacity amid nursing deficit

The minister for health 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” after nurses last week called for bed closures at University Hospital Limerick, claiming there were not enough of them.

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.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has estimated 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.

Responding to nurses calls for bed closures at UHL, Simon Harris 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 hospital’s, 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.

UHL said the numbers presenting at its ED continue to increase year-on-year and of those presenting, the proportion requiring admission, including many frail elderly patients, has also increased.

“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.”

Meanwhile Mr Harris has admitted it is “very likely” that temporary accommodation planned to alleviate chronic overcrowding at South Tipperary General Hospital won’t be in place until next year.

A 40-bed “patient hotel” proposal was announced for the Clonmel-based hospital, which is regularly among the most over-crowded acute hospitals in the country, in September by independent TD Michael Lowry but it has since emerged that the project would be subject to planning and procurement processes.

During a visit to the hospital yesterday, Mr Harris said that a decision on what option to take to provide temporary relief at STGH will be taken “by the end of the year”.

Asked if it would be 2017 at the earliest before new accommodation was in place, the minister replied: “I think that’s likely, I think that’s very likely.”

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