Seanad debates

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Commencement Matters

Hospital Accommodation Provision

10:30 am

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for attending. Like many hospitals throughout the country, Sligo University Hospital faces many ongoing challenges, including cost pressures, recruitment issues, inpatient and day-case waiting lists, OPD waiting times and increased trolley pressures. Among the biggest challenges is that relating to bed capacity and Sligo University Hospital is no different from many other hospitals in seeking additional beds. Unfortunately, Sligo University Hospital’s capacity has reduced by 13% over the past ten years . Put simply, it needs more beds. The situation has been aggravated by the hospital losing 42 inpatient beds since 2004 and the increase in trolley pressures has presented a clear-cut case for additional bed capacity. This capacity challenge is set to become greater because Ireland has an ageing population. In that context, it is estimated that there will be a 40% increase in the number of people aged 65 and over in the next ten years.

We are all aware of the huge pressures on bed capacity in our hospitals, especially during winter months. Last January was no different, with emergency departments such as that in Sligo under enormous strain due to high demand and the increased incidence of flu mainly affecting older people. Many Senators will be aware that the recent health service capacity review identified the need for 2,600 additional acute hospital beds over the next ten years. I understand that 600 will become available nationally in the coming year. The Government is fully committed to the provision of these extra acute hospital beds under the Project Ireland 2040 framework unveiled in Sligo last February.

I also take this opportunity to appeal directly to Minister for Health to ensure that Sligo University Hospital gets its fair share of these additional beds. I hope that some of these beds - with the associated staffing - can come on stream prior to next winter. Extra beds for Sligo will also certainly help smooth the transition to the new surgical and emergency department block being developed at the hospital. Many other excellent projects being planned at the hospital, such as the development of a cardiac catheterisation laboratory service, a radiology suite, a diabetes day unit and a central sterile services department, CSSD, upgrade.I commend the hospital on its ongoing efforts to advance these projects but increased bed capacity continues to be a key priority. There is no question but that those 2,600 hospital beds recommended in the Government's bed capacity review will make a major difference to hospitals nationwide, including in Sligo. I understand that approximately 200 beds opened last winter across some of our hospitals, and more are due to come on stream later in the year. I attended a meeting in Sligo over two weeks ago when the management team briefed local politicians on all the various matters affecting them. Sligo must be a beneficiary when it comes to the next phase in the allocation of extra beds. I look forward to the Minister of State making a provision for these beds in order that vital additional capacity can be provided for the hospital.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for raising this issue today. As he will be aware, the Department of Health has undertaken a health service capacity review in line with the programme for a partnership Government commitment, the findings of which provide an evidence base for future capacity decisions. If reforms are implemented, the report concludes, as the Senator points out, that nearly 2,600 additional acute hospital beds will be required by 2031. As a first step towards implementing this recommendation, I have asked my Department to work with the Health Service Executive, HSE, to identify the location and mix of beds across the hospital system that can be opened and staffed this year and in 2019. The HSE is continuing to develop this proposal, with the aim of formulating an evidence-based plan for increasing bed capacity nationally, which will form the basis of discussions with colleagues in government on the financing of this important programme of work.

Senator Feighan has specifically asked me to speak today on proposed plans for Sligo University Hospital. I can confirm that the HSE has been working with the Saolta hospital group on the development of specific proposals for all its hospitals. Currently, this includes a proposal for a new modular build for Sligo University Hospital that would increase bed capacity at this site by up to 52 inpatient beds. The proposal in respect of Sligo University Hospital, along with all those submitted by other hospitals, is currently being assessed by the HSE in terms of its feasibility, including matters of staffing, costing, timeline and impact, with a view to bringing an overall plan to my Department for consideration and discussion with colleagues in government. Therefore, while I understand the Senator's wish to have a clear response on this matter today, I must await the outcome of the process under way.

As outlined in the capacity review, the demographic pressures being experienced by the health service are such as to demand not just additional capacity but continued emphasis on health and well-being initiatives, an improved model of care with a stronger role for enhanced community-based services and continued improvement in productivity, including in acute hospitals. The Government has approved a record level of capital investment in health at €10.9 billion over the next ten years. This will provide for a major enhancement of the capacity of our health services to meet demand. Importantly, the accelerated introduction of additional capacity for 2018 and 2019 will be matched by forthcoming reforms, including the publication of a detailed Sláintecare implementation plan and the overhaul of the current GP contract.

We all acknowledge that the challenges we face are significant and of that there is little doubt. However, it is my firm belief that all of us want to find the right solutions - patient-centred, evidence-based, results-focused and sustainable - to the challenges currently facing our health services. I know we have a long road ahead of us but 2018 will be the start of this journey of reform and strengthening of our health services.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The Saolta group has proposed a new modular build for Sligo University Hospital that would increase bed capacity at the site and the 52 beds are welcome. We are looking at 600 beds that are due to come on stream and I hope Sligo and the north west, which covers my area of Boyle, would get the beds required.

Sitting suspended at 11.15 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.