Thursday, 22 March 2018
Hospital Accommodation Provision
I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this important matter of concern for the people of Limerick city and county and the wider mid-west region. The issue is the building of a unit with 60 modular beds on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick and I wish to ascertain the measures being put in place to fast-track the planning and procurement stages of the project.
The background is that in 2009, the accident and emergency units in Ennis, Nenagh and St. John's hospitals were closed prior to the building of a new emergency department in University Hospital Limerick, which is now thankfully up and running. However, the closure of the three accident and emergency units was predicated on the provision of 136 co-location beds on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick. That never came to pass. We have been playing catch-up in the near-decade since 2009.
I thank the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, for ensuring that 96 acute beds are provided for in the capital plan for University Hospital Limerick. It will require time to build such facilities but in the interim, beds are needed urgently. Bed capacity is a greater issue in the mid-west and in Limerick than in any other region in the country.
I have worked with the management of University Hospital Limerick, the Minister and the HSE to get an application submitted for 60 modular beds in the grounds of University Hospital Limerick. That has gone to the HSE. My understanding is that the application is now with the Department of Health. The critical issue is that there is a precise site on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick to locate the building. It is a medium-term temporary measure to enable beds to be provided on the ground in an area that is distant from any amenities.
Will the Minister of State outline the measures that have been put in place to ensure we can build a ward to house these 60 modular beds and have them in operation as quickly as possible? Such a project will have to go through the following phases, approval, planning, procurement and construction. I note many elements of the project will be completed off site and then it will be assembled on site and made operational. The unit will then have to be staffed. I want to fast-track the initial process of planning and procurement. As it can be built off-site, we should aim that it be in place as quickly as possible.
People will know from media reports that bed capacity is a problem in the mid-west. I believe that one must face up to the facts of the case. We will get the 96 acute beds, but it will take a period before they are operational and will be located adjacent to the new emergency department, which is up and running. We need to put in place the ward for the 60 temporary modular beds on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick as quickly as possible.
That will require that we fast-track the areas of planning and procurement. Has the Minister plans in place to ensure that we can fast-track the building of this 60-bed ward on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick to ensure we can provide the beds the people of Limerick and the mid-west deserve?
I welcome the opportunity to address the House on this matter on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. While acknowledging the need for productivity improvements and reforms across the health service, the recently-published health service capacity review outlines that in order to reach international standards of bed occupancy levels, the acute hospital system needs additional beds. In response to this recommendation, the Minister, Deputy Harris, has asked the HSE to develop a plan to identify the location and mix of beds across the hospital system, which can be opened and staffed by November 2018. This will help to improve preparedness for the winter of 2018-2019 and relieve overcrowding in our hospital emergency departments. The Department of Health is engaging with the HSE to develop this plan as a priority. I can confirm that as part of this process, all hospital groups have been asked by the HSE to submit plans to increase capacity, including plans to develop modular builds. I understand that in that context, the University of Limerick hospital group is preparing a proposal for additional beds. I can assure the House that the Government is committed to investing in new capacity and making tangible reforms to our model of health care delivery. The findings of the health service capacity review published in January were considered in the context of the recently-published Project Ireland 2040 initiative. The commitment to significant investment in the health services in the national development plan demonstrates the Government’s intention to fundamentally improve our health service. The University of Limerick hospital group has identified a number of projects for future development. This includes a 96-bed ward block at University Hospital Limerick to address bed capacity needs and this project was funded to design phase. I am pleased to note that construction of this ward block is included in Project Ireland 2040. There has been very significant investment in University Hospital Limerick in recent years. The new emergency department opened only last May and other developments include the Leben Building, the cardiac unit, the car park and more besides. More recently, in September 2017, 17 new surge capacity beds opened in the old emergency department in Dooradoyle to alleviate overcrowding pressures. These beds will be converted to a medical short stay unit later this year. Also, a new surgical and pre-operative assessment unit at the hospital is projected to open in April 2018, which will further improve services at the hospital. The need to address bed capacity at University Hospital Limerick is recognised by all stakeholders and medium and long-term solutions are being developed. However, it is important to note that a number of construction projects are under way at University Hospital Limerick. It goes without saying that acute hospital campuses are complex sites. Therefore, all construction must be carefully planned and scheduled in order to ensure that patient care is not impeded or unnecessarily impacted upon.
I have noted what the Senator has said. One of the issues that he raised concerns modular bed units, with which I am unfamiliar. I will discuss the matter with the Minister on his behalf. I am not sure how modular bed units are constructed but if they are anything like modular housing, then can be put in place in a short period. I will convey all of these matters to the Minister.
I thank the Minister of State for her reply. University Hospital Limerick has submitted plans for 60 modular beds. These plans are, I think, with the HSE, which is in discussions with the Department of Health. For me, this matter is very simple. As a public representative in Limerick city, I know what people have had to endure in recent years due to a lack of bed capacity in the mid-west and I want the matter rectified. The 96 acute beds are now part of the capital plan, for which I thank the Minister for Health. The initiative will make an enormous difference but it will take a period to get through the normal planning, procurement and building processes. In the interim, I want how necessary these modular beds are to be conveyed in the strongest possible terms. I will work with the Minister, the HSE and the Department of Health to find ways to fast-track the process and have these beds provided as quickly as possible.
I have noted the matters raised by the Senator and I understand his frustration. I assure him that we all want to make sure that we can get modular beds into units such as this as soon as possible. I will stress to the Minister the necessity for him to contact the Senator about this matter because I do not know how long construction will take. I will certainly relay to the Minister the Senator's deep concerns about this project and about the need for the issue relating to University Hospital Limerick to be attended to as soon as possible.