Few extra beds in wards takes pressure off A&E

THE Labour party claims that the plan to develop co-located private hospitals on State lands will result in loss of revenue from insurance companies of €145 million.

The PDs agree, but claim it will be €100m.

Labour claims that the plan will cause health insurance to rise. The PDs agree that health insurance is going to rise but say it is because of other Government policies.

We further learn that the co-located facilities will not come on stream until 2011.

Neither party mentions that Irish private hospitals are niche specialists focussing on the treatment of elective or planned cases, leaving urgent and unplanned cases to the public hospitals. Neither party mentions that, therefore, private (or insured) patients still need the public hospital system.

What does it all mean for those of us who are desperately trying to treat ill patients, regardless of status, in our over-crowded and worn public hospitals?

Do our patients need 1,000 private beds in 2011 or 2,300 public beds in seven years? The answer may be simpler than it looks.

A mere 20 beds were added to Wexford general hospital but that was enough to solve the A&E problem there.

The general hospital in Kilkenny gained a more generous 50 beds. Not only are there no problems in A&E there, but it has been possible to close down each old ward in turn for cleaning and refurbishing, helping in the battle against MRSA.

In contrast, the general hospital in Clonmel did not have a problem in A&E until surgical services from Cashel relocated there with 20 beds less than there had been in Cashel.

Result: trolleys in A&E.

It seems to me that the three bogeymen of the Irish health debate are MRSA, trolleys in A&E and consultants’ private practice. The first two can be tackled by adding a surprisingly small number of public beds to our public hospitals. As for private practice, it is counter-intuitive to believe that developing private hospitals will address that.

As a consultant committed to treating public patients in our public hospitals, I believe that the quickest way to restore a degree of equity in our hospital system is to add a targeted number of public beds immediately. This alone will not solve all our problems but it would be a very good first step.

Dr Christine O’Malley

Consultant Geriatrician

Nenagh General Hospital

Co Tipperary

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