A €22m expansion of Cork city’s second largest hospital is on track to deliver 30 extra inpatient beds and two state-of-the-art operating theatres by October.
The building project at the 337-bed Mercy University Hospital (MUH), where Clancy Construction is the main contractor, is part of an ambitious €33m capital development progamme that will lead to the creation of circa 100 new posts and the enhancement of a range of services.
The overall €33m investment includes an expanded emergency department (ED) footprint, which should help reduce patient waiting times. Earlier this month MUH recorded an average ED wait time of 21.6 hours, the highest in the country.
The current project – which will deliver 30 extra beds in both single and multi-bed ensuite rooms over two floors (12 single ensuites, and six three-bed ensuite rooms) – has been challenging in the face of Covid-19 and the knock-on effect to supply chains of war in Ukraine.
Des Riordan, associate director with Clancy Construction, said it had been “a massive feat of engineering, logistics, collaboration and meticulous planning from the entire team” to deliver within an 18-month timeframe (work started in April 2021) while working in a confined space, in a live hospital environment. At the peak of the works, the average number of workers on site was 108.
MUH project manager Cathal O’Regan said live services had been maintained at all times.
To assist on delivering the project on time, a fast-track construction process using off-site fabrication of some elements was used.
The new modular build structure, over three storeys, with service yard underneath, will add 2400 sq m (almost 26,000 sq ft) to the city centre hospital and will link into the existing building at six locations. Brian Warren, contracts manager with Clancy Construction, said there was minimal disruption to the public during construction, with traffic restrictions for just one night last December, to facilitate the delivery of giant steel trusses from Leonard Steel in Monaghan, the largest of which weighed 20 tonnes (19.5m x 3.2m) with a 700-tonne Liebherr crane brought in to lift it into place.
Mr Riordan said given its magnitude it was “like landing the Mothership”.
The cost of the construction project, before installation of clinical equipment, is €18m.
Some of the new bedrooms at MUH have been designed with bariatric patients in mind, where mobility issues can arise. Hoists have been installed and door heights raised. The area of a typical bedroom is 26 sq m, while the new theatres, on the third floor of the build, will measure 800 sq ft. Mr O’Regan said it hasn’t been confirmed yet if the two new theatres will replace two of the four existing theatres or increase the complement to six. One of those theatres will be a hybrid theatre, just the third of its kind in Ireland. A hybrid theatre, designed to improve efficacy and safety of procedures, combines the traditional operating room with an image-guided interventional suite. The operation is mounted on large screens and can be overlaid with CT, MRI or ultrasound images.
In addition to the new build housing the extra beds and theatres, the project tripled the hospital’s oxygen storage capacity. Future proofing of medical gas provision was one of the key items identified by the HSE during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr O'Regan said.
MUH has carried out a number of other improvements as part of the overall €33m capital investment programme, including adding to its ICU and critical care bed capacity and replacing its outdated prefabricated radiology department with a new and expanded three storey modular build where upwards of 75,000 examinations are carried out each year.
MUH CEO Sandra Daly said the capital investment was allowing the hospital “to address its urgent infrastructural and critical care needs”.
"This much needed investment will allow the hospital to ready itself to meet current and future health needs by optimising patient safety, patient experience and effectiveness of care," Ms Daly said.
There are additional ambitious plans in the pipeline. MUH has submitted a phased development plan to the Department of Health and the HSE that would see the quadrupling of the hospital on its current 16-acre site to provide an additional 68,000 sq m of expanded capacity. The vision for the MUH campus includes “a modern general hospital, supporting a new elective facility". However while Cork been earmarked by Sláintecare, the government blueprint for future healthcare, as a location for a new elective hospital, St Stephen’s Hospital site in Glanmire, which covers 117 acres, was selected as the preferred location earlier this year.
MUH is also in active discussions with University College Cork in respect of development plans for the across-river 12.5 acre Distillery Fields site, which it jointly owns with UCC. A joint masterplan has been agreed in principle.
MUH treats circa 137,000 patients and has a visitor footfall of approximately 50,000 people per annum.