Tuesday, 19 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
97. To ask the Minister for Health the contingency plans in place to deal with the severe lack of capacity at University Hospital Limerick (details supplied) as the winter season approaches; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50924/21]
I thank the Deputy for the question. I acknowledge the scale of the challenge facing our emergency departments in what will be a difficult winter. We all appreciate that many of our front-line staff are exhausted from the effects of the last 19 months. I thank our emergency department staff throughout the country for their ongoing commitment and their work.
It is accepted that acute bed capacity shortages in the mid-west are a contributor to overcrowding at the emergency department in University Hospital Limerick. The Deputy will be aware of the significant investment in University Hospital Limerick in recent years to address this, including a new emergency department which opened in 2017. A total of 132 additional beds have been provided in the past year, which I know the Deputy will welcome. It includes additional capacity in the new 60-bed ward; a 24-bed, single-room, rapid-build ward; and the reconfiguration of the 14-bed high dependency unit, HDU. In addition, the new 96-bed inpatient ward block, which is 4 x 24 beds, has now progressed through the detailed design stage and is due to go to tender in the coming weeks. While this is welcome and is having an impact, the increase in attendance in recent months, along with the challenges of providing Covid-19 care, is challenging.
The hospital is actively managing discharges and using the model 2 hospitals and community facilities to ease the pressure. The Government provided significant additional funding for this year of €1.2 billion to increase capacity and services, develop the alternative pathways, and support reform. This level of investment is being maintained and built on for the budget for next year. In short, while much capacity has been added, I am aware there are still significant pressures that need to be looked at.
I thank the Minister. To clarify, I understand that only half the beds in the 96-bed unit will be new beds and the rest, 48 beds, will be taken out elsewhere. Therefore, there will not be 96 additional beds, unfortunately. I agree with the Minister that there have been a number of beds put in there. However, last week I met the CEO of the hospital and some of the clinical directors there. I also met some of the trade unions which deal with the workers.
In October, there has been an average of 76 patients per day on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick. October 2021 will be the worst month ever in the hospital. That is saying a lot, because we have had historic highs. Already we are at almost 1,000 people. We have nine more days to go. It will, unfortunately, be the highest figure historically in the hospital. Winter is coming and capacity is stretched. It was predicted, although in fairness it was before the Minister’s time, that it was going to increase. I believe there is already in 2021 a 22% increase on 2019 figures. We do not have the beds to deal with it. It is a disaster. I got a phone call yesterday from someone who was in an emergency department and there were 150 people in there at the time.
There is an average of about 48 Covid-19 patients in University Hospital Limerick at the moment.
That is contributing to the number of people on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick, with more than 70 on average. Money has been put aside to reduce waiting lists in the budget, with more than €50 million available. Will the Minister look at expediting the waiting time at University Hospital Limerick?
I thank both Deputies. They have raised this issue with me and we are looking at it as a priority. Many resources have been invested in Limerick. For example, up to the end of August, University Hospital Limerick had an increase of over 340 staff compared with December of last year.
I appreciate that. I am not trying to brush that aside. I am saying that there has been significant investment in many of the things that are being looked for, including additional staff, additional beds, and as the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, said, additional home care for discharge. I fully accept and appreciate, and the HSE is aware, that more needs to be done. The hospital is following escalation procedures at the moment. The Deputies can rest assured that all additional requests for resources will be taken seriously.