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Way forward to address capacity deficit

By Paul Mulholland - 10th Jun 2024

capacity deficit

At the end of last month, the Government revealed a significant plan to address the health service’s capacity deficit. As part of the Acute Inpatient Hospital Bed Expansion Plan, it was announced an additional 3,352 acute hospital beds will be delivered between 2024 and 2031. The figure includes 2,997 net additional beds, as well as 355 replacement beds. These new beds are in addition to the 1,015 beds already under construction or previously committed to by the Government, and are also included in the plan.

The announcement has been welcomed by medical organisations.

Prof Matthew Sadlier, Chair of the consultant committee of the IMO, said the plan was “a significant step forward”, adding “the commitment must be honoured in full and on schedule”.

Prof Sadlier said the Government needs to move with “urgency” to secure planning permissions, prepare for the necessary building works and for the recruitment of staff.

The Irish Association for Emergency Medicine also welcomed the plan and stressed that implementation is critical. The Association further emphasised that steps need to be taken to define the staffing requirements associated with these beds and “ensure that the recruitment of the necessary healthcare professionals matches bed delivery in a coordinated way”.

Political opponents have been more critical. For instance, Sinn Féin spokesperson on health Deputy David Cullinane criticised the lack of related funding and workforce planning to go with the
plan document.

These are valid points and are referred to in the document itself.

The indicative cost range for the proposed additional acute inpatient bed capacity is estimated between €0.75 million to €1.1 million.

“Given the multi-year nature of this plan, these indicative estimates can only be confirmed at the end of a market engagement exercise. Furthermore, any clinical and ancillary service costs associated with the acute bed additionality (eg, in the form of additional diagnostics, theatre, catering, and facilities support) will also need to be considered,” it states.

Funding is one of “several critical factors” that could impact the pace of delivery, according to the document. Capital funding allocated through the National Development Plan (NDP) is only currently provided to 2026.

“Further engagement to confirm future NDP funding will be required to deliver all beds as profiled within this plan,” according to the document.

It also acknowledges that “operational delivery will also be dependent on recruitment”.

The health service does not have a strong track record when it comes to implementing reports. But it is right that the plan is welcomed. The lack of capacity within Irish hospitals has been highlighted repeatedly for some time by healthcare analysts and bodies such as the Economic and Social Research Institute. The Government’s announcement at least shows the problem is being taken seriously, even if there is still uncertainty about funding and staff.

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