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Waiting lists in a number of hospitals including University Hospital Limerick have soared by almost 40%.

Phased opening of new €19.5 million 60-bed modular unit starts next Monday

THE new €19.5 million 60-bed block modular unit to tackle overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) will be fully operational almost two months after a recent predicted timeframe given by a government minister.

Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Mary Butler stated in the Seanad recently
“from a construction perspective, the new ward block should be ready to be operational by Monday, November 9”.

However, it has now been confirmed the long-awaited modular unit will come on stream in three distinct phases, starting with 20 beds next Monday and will not be fully operational until January.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has told Deputy Cathal Crowe a new 20-bed ward, which is part of the 60-bed unit will open next Monday, this will be followed by a further 20 in December and the final 20 will be up and running in January.

“A state-of-the-art facility will be in place at UHL now, and the timing couldn’t be better in the depths of a national health crisis.
“Adding beds anywhere in the hospital network will have a positive domino effect and this will trickle down and alleviate the pressure on the emergency department, helping to drive those trolley numbers down.

“This isn’t going to be a magic fix to the issues with the Mid-West health system but it’s a significant step in the right direction and I look forward to seeing it up and running,” said Deputy Cathal Crowe.

Deputy Michael McNamara has also welcomed official confirmation of an opening schedule for the new unit after criticising the lack of a timeframe last week.

Acknowledging it has has been a long process, Deputy Joe Carey said while this positive development will greatly assist in reducing trolley numbers, it will not solve the issue entirely.

Deputy Carey looks forward to the additional acute bed capacity that the 60-bed modular unit will provide.
The new ward block will provide modern, single-room inpatient accommodation. As well as an improved experience for patients in terms of comfort, privacy and dignity; it will provide better isolation for patients and improve infection prevention and control capabilities.

The project is also a significant step in addressing the underlying bed capacity shortages in the Mid-West.
Built with three inpatient wards of 20 en-suite single rooms over a basement level, the first of these wards will open on November 23rd; the second ward on December 14th and the third on January 4th 2021.

The projected opening timeline means 78 single rooms will be added by the end of this year and a further 20 beds will be added early in January 2021.

A recruitment campaign has been undertaken to support the opening of the new capacity and the UL Hospitals’ Group has in recent days reached agreement with trade unions over the phased opening of the new capacity.

All current student nurses and midwives graduating from the University of Limerick have been offered permanent contracts. As of the end of October, the group has recruited 150 nurses and 75 health care assistants in the year to date. In addition, 16 nursing staff have returned from retirement or career breaks. A further 150 nurses have been recruited from overseas and they began taking up positions, on a phased basis, last week.

Colette Cowan, CEO, UL Hospitals Group, commented: “New accommodation that has opened in UHL in recent weeks has greatly improved the care environment for oncology/haematology patients and allowed us to increase our isolation facilities at a time when the need was never greater.

“Completion of the 60-bed block brings these improvements a significant step further and the bright modern accommodation is no less than what our patients and our staff deserve after many years where system wide pressures have left too many of our patients facing long waits for a bed.

“The 60-Bed Block will improve but not solve the problem of trolley waits and our continued heavy reliance on outdated multi-occupancy nightingale wards. In that regard, we also look forward to the delivery of the 96-bed block project which continues to progress through the planning process.”

“Delivery of this project in such a short timeframe is a great achievement by all concerned. We acknowledge the support of government and the HSE. We acknowledge also the work of HSE Estates in delivering this significant capital project so quickly and the contractors who have delivered to such a high standard and in spite of the enormous challenges this pandemic has presented around the supply chain, logistics, workplace safety and so much more.

“I also wish to acknowledge the assistance of the Defence Forces from Sarsfield Barracks and Collins Barracks (Cork) with the transfer of equipment into the new,” she said.

Lorraine Rafter Director of Human Resources, UL Hospitals Group said: “The pandemic has also presented new challenges around recruitment, particularly in the international environment in which we compete for in-demand and highly qualified healthcare workers. Recruitment in an organisation the size of ours is a continuous process.”

Dan Danaher

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