Bed numbers drop by 15% at top hospital

THE number of beds available at one of the country’s main hospitals has dropped steadily over the last three years, despite Government promises to boost bed numbers.

Average bed numbers at the Mater Hospital in Dublin have declined by 15% since 2001 - the year when the National Health Strategy was launched.

The National Health Strategy, published by the Minister for Health Micheál Martin, included a commitment to provide an additional 3,000 hospital beds, the Labour Party said last night.

Figures obtained by Labour from the Eastern Regional Health Authority shows that in contrast to the 530 beds in 2001, in the first quarter of this year the Mater only had 455 beds available.

During the same period, the average number of beds closed in the Mater increased from just six in the latter eight months of 2002 to 42 in 2003 and 37 in the first quarter of 2004.

Describing the Mater as a crucial part of the hospital infrastructure in Dublin, Labour health spokesperson Liz McManus said it provided the main accident and emergency department for central Dublin.

“It is shocking that, at a time when waiting lists are so long and A&E Departments remain under such pressure, the number of beds in a key Dublin hospital should have been allowed to decline by such a number. There are 3,675 patients awaiting treatment at the Mater. I am now calling on the ERHA to give a full account of bed reductions and closures in each of the tertiary hospitals in Dublin,” she said.

But Mr McManus said the Mater was not unique but part of a wider picture of reductions in the number of beds available.

Responding to queries from Labour TD Joe Costello, ERHA evaluation manager Dr Ciaran Browne said the authority was working with all hospitals in the region to ensure all beds were available for admissions. “In parallel to this, the authority also funded the Mater Hospital with €1.34 million during 2003 to ensure their facilities in the A&E are adequate to respond to demand,” he said.

Also yesterday, Minister Martin confirmed that the Department of Health was getting €2.4 billion to invest in new facilities over the next five years.

Yesterday’s Irish Examiner’s reported that the Government was to embark on a multi-billion spending spree on health in the run-up to the next general election.

But Mr Martin denied the investment was a response to the Government’s disastrous performance in the local and European elections and claimed the funding was coming anyway.

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