The construction of a new 96-bed inpatient unit at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) is expected to begin early next year, after the Health Service Executive (HSE) published a tender notice for the project this week.
The move comes amid an overcrowding crisis at the hospital, where 52 patients were accommodated on trolleys on Wednesday, prompting the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) to call for ministerial intervention.
UHL is one of Ireland's most overcrowded hospitals.— Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation (@INMO_IRL) July 28, 2021
In the last six months, over 110 new beds have been added - yet there are still patients on trolleys.
INMO nurses in UHL are calling for the Minister of Health to intervene and investigate why.
See https://t.co/ZMMEtekWbw pic.twitter.com/WBvtW2YBjs
Tender documents show that work on the new four-storey unit is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2022 “or shortly thereafter”, and construction will take approximately 20 months.
However, the documents set the estimated cost of the unit at €43m plus VAT, which is significantly higher than the €25m that was previously mentioned in relation to the project.
It has also been reported that the 96-bed inpatient facility will only result in a net capacity increase of 48 beds, as the other 48 will simply replace existing bed spaces.
Hospital management at UHL cancelled all elective and outpatient services earlier this week as the overcrowding crisis worsened despite the addition of 110 new beds since January.
The hospital urged members of the public to consider all other care options before attending the emergency department in an effort to ease what it described as “a challenge” for healthcare workers.
INMO Assistant Director of Industrial Relations Mary Fogarty said that frontline nurses had seen the overcrowding get “even worse” despite major investment in new beds over recent months.
Ms Fogarty added that union members had described the hospital as being “out of control” despite the cancellation of elective surgeries, and said that the provision of additional bed capacity is not a “silver bullet” for the problems at UHL.
The new inpatient unit will be located above the existing two-storey Renal and Emergency Department building, adjacent to the Critical Care Unit. The project will also include an extension to the outpatients department and the provision of 110 carparking spaces.
The works will take place while services continue at nearby clinical departments, and the construction phase will be followed by a 12-month defects period, according to the tender.