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The challenge of capacity in the acute sector was a major theme at the recent meeting of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM). The meeting, which was held at the RCSI on 28 June, was organised to mark the 30th anniversary of the Association.
“I have been hugely disappointed about how slow any improvements have been [in bed capacity],” Dr Fergal Hickey, Consultant in Emergency Medicine, Sligo University Hospital, told the Medical Independent. Dr Hickey addressed the meeting, taking a look back over the three decades of the Association’s work.
“Although there is acknowledgement that the problem needs to be fixed, the time frame to fix it suggests that people just don’t understand how urgent and necessary it is, and that is my big concern,” said Dr Hickey.
“My big concern is that it should be seen as a priority, the same way as other forms of national infrastructure are considered important. Patients’ lives are at risk and it hasn’t really got the urgency and commitment it should.
“There was a question put out to the [health] system in early 2018 looking for how they could find beds and develop beds. A lot of submissions were sent in [but] most of the hospitals [that] have submitted have heard nothing more about it.”
Also addressing the meeting was the Executive Director of the Sláintecare Programme Office, Ms Laura Magahy. She said that the Sláintecare report did focus on the needs of emergency departments.
She referenced how the ‘Health Service Capacity Review’ recommended 2,600 new beds to be introduced into the acute sector over the next 12 years.
“That is a lot of beds for the system and decisions would have to be made on what proportion of those would be for elective only, and how they would be distributed around the country,” she told attendees.
“That [2,600 figure] is only if there is a series of other initiatives put in place leading to increased capacity in the community sector to take the pressure off the acute system generally and to make better use of the existing bed stocks.”
Ms Magahy also spoke about the recruitment and retention of doctors and access to diagnostics as further challenges faced by emergency medicine.