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Fears that UHL 96-bed block will only deliver 48 new beds

CONCERN has been expressed by a local Dáil deputy the new 96-bed block approved for University Hospital Limerick (UHL) will only deliver 48 additional new beds for public patients in the region, writes Dan Danaher.

UHL is in the process of tendering for the development of a new four-story 96 single bed acute inpatient ward block extension at their main campus. Tenders are due to be returned by the end of the month.

In addition to securing full planning permission, UL Hospitals’ Group chief executive officer, Colette Cowan stated it is anticipated the works contract will be awarded in the second quarter of this year, subject to HSE Board approval and funding availability.

“It is envisaged that when the new 96-bed block opens, about half of the beds will be used to replace older bed stock on the UHL site,” she stated in response to a Dáil question tabled by Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne.

“This stems from a long-identified need to move away from nightingale wards to single en-suite rooms in hospitals due to cross-infection issues.

“The rationale has become more apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic that has made such a significant impact on all aspects of healthcare.”

Deputy Wynne has expressed concern this new development will not be enough to offset the serious and consistent overcrowding at UHL (see Champion story here).

“The fact that the 96-bed block was announced in 2020, but in reality 48 additional beds will be provided three years down the line exposes how sluggish and inefficient change is in the country. There is no commitment by the Government to adequately staff and resource these beds.”

“The Irish Patients Association has been recording the trolley numbers across all Irish hospitals over successive months and UHL has consistently ranked among the worst.”

Her concern coincides with the publication of figures by the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives (INMO) showing UHL was the most overcrowded hospital on Wednesday with 65 patients on trolleys, 25 more than Cork University Hospital, the second most overcrowded acute facility in the country.

Overcrowding hit a record high in UHL this week with 97 patients on trolleys on Tuesday, following 86 patients on trolleys on Monday.

Responding to Clare Champion queries, the group stated significant capital development at University Hospital Limerick in recent years has been supported by comprehensive recruitment campaigns.

These have ensured adequate staff were in place to open services for patients as soon as these developments were handed over and equipped, the group claimed.

This has involved the recruitment of hundreds of extra staff to work in the new Emergency Department, the 60 Bed Block and other developments.

The group stated it follows the statutory procurement and planning processes. In the context of the national response to the pandemic, it worked closely with HSE Estates and with government to identify projects, which could be completed quickly and would benefit patients for many years to come.

These have included the rapid delivery of the 24-bed Maigue Unit and theatre complex at Croom Orthopaedic Hospital and the 14-bed and 24-bed blocks at UHL, the latter of which has significantly improved patient experience for haematology and cancer patients. All of the above developments were delivered on time.

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