Government must prioritise hospital investment to avoid losing up to 25% of critical inpatient beds, says IHCA

  • Up to 25% of acute hospital inpatient beds could be lost as a result of social distancing measures; 
  • Urgent funding, development and implementation needed to increase hospital capacity to meet COVID-19 and winter demands;
  • Consultants outline 21 priority actions needed to get acute hospital care ready to face future challenges.

IHCA President Donal O’Hanlon: “We risk losing significant capacity as a result of social distancing measures, yet there are thousands more beds required across the full scope of our hospital system. These facilities are not a luxury but a necessity.”

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today, 17 July, warned that up to 25% of acute hospital inpatient beds could be lost as a result of social distancing measures.

The call comes ahead of this afternoon’s Special COVID-19 Committee hearing on Non-COVID-19 healthcare disruption, where members of the Oireachtas will hear from representatives of the HSE, Department of Health and National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) on waiting list backlogs.

In a written submission to the Committee, the IHCA says that up to a quarter of inpatient beds could be displaced due to new social distancing requirements of 2 metres to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in our acute hospitals. Outpatient departments and emergency departments across the country will also require hospitals to commission and equip additional space to hold clinics and assess emergency presentations. Ensuring that bed occupancy operates between 80%-85%, for as long as we are living alongside COVID-19, will also be extremely challenging unless the existing total public hospital bed and other capacities are expanded rapidly.

One week after the latest NTPF figures were released showing 816,716 people are now on some form of waiting list in Ireland, the IHCA says that the Government must take an emergency response to the capacity and investment crisis faced by acute hospitals across the country.

Consultants fear that if the Government does not urgently prioritise the funding, development and implementation of practical plans towards addressing hospital capacity and consultant recruitment, Ireland could be facing its worst winter period yet, as hospitals continue to battle the complexities of COVID-19 and enter into the flu season with less beds and space available.

In its submission, the IHCA outlines 21 priority actions needed by Government and the HSE for hospitals to deliver timely, quality care to both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients, including:

  • Fast tracking the opening of the additional 2,600 acute hospital beds and 4,500 community step-down and rehab beds committed to in the 2018 Capacity Review and provided for in the National Development Plan;
  • Urgently doubling intensive care unit capacity to 579 beds as recommended over a decade ago by the HSE;
  • Immediately filling the 500 vacant permanent hospital consultant posts and ending consultant pay discrimination, to urgently increase critical frontline hospital capacity;
  • Keeping open the 220 inpatient beds that were reopened since last winter and the 324 beds opened under the COVID-19 plan;
  • Fund and open the additional 1,350 intermediate transitional care and step-down beds immediately, which have already been identified by the HSE. These beds are required to provide for increased demand for care and to transfer clinically discharged patients to free up public hospital capacity which is required to treat patients on waiting lists;
  • Assess the need to retaining the 300 beds at the Citywest convention centre beyond October, as well as the additional step-down capacity in the University Limerick Arena.

The IHCA has urged the Government to drastically speed up plans and investment to meet Ireland’s hospital capacity needs. 

IHCA President Donal O’Hanlon said, “COVID-19 has completely changed the healthcare landscape and our hospitals must respond accordingly. Clinical teams have shown an extraordinary ability to adapt to the pandemic and deliver care in increasingly strained circumstances.

“Our politicians must seize the opportunity to create lasting change in Ireland’s health system through adequate investment that will give us the breathing room to allow us to re-open our economy and keep it open.

“We risk losing significant capacity as a result of social distancing measures, yet there are thousands more beds required across the full scope of our hospital system. These facilities are not a luxury but a necessity, and will become even more urgent as we enter the winter season.

“This is a healthcare crisis that requires an emergency financial response from our Government.”