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Over €6bn required to meet Government capacity commitments – IHCA

By Reporter - 14th Jun 2024

Prof Robert Landers, IHCA President

The IHCA says the Government must commit an estimated €6 billion in capital funding in order to increase the number of acute hospital beds and theatre capacity in public hospitals. The funding is essential to deliver on Government promises to build and open essential hospital improvements, according to the Association.

Commenting on the newly released National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) waiting list figures for the end of May, the IHCA said that over 907,000 people are currently on some form of NTPF waiting list.

The Association highlights this is an increase of 323,000 (55 per cent) since the publication of the Sláintecare Report in May 2017.

The IHCA also points out the Government’s 2024 Waiting List Action Plan set a target to reduce waiting lists for appointments and hospital treatment by almost 6 per cent (-39,300) by the end of December compared with the number waiting at the start of the year. However, the first five months of 2024 alone have seen the three main waiting lists increase by over 33,000, or 5 per cent, according to the Association.

The Association responded cautiously late last month to the publication of the Government’s Acute Hospital Inpatient Bed Capacity Expansion Plan.

The plan pledges to open an additional 3,000 hospital inpatient beds by 2031.

Consultants say previous broken promises on hospital beds has meant that badly needed additional capacity has either not materialised or has been delivered at too slow a pace.

With the capital cost of each hospital bed estimated at between €0.75 million and €1.1million, the IHCA is calling on the Government to commit up to €3.3 billion required to deliver the additional 3,000 beds.

However, a budget of €245 million has been set aside through the National Development Plan to open just a fraction of these extra hospital beds up to 2027.

In addition, the IHCA estimates that a further €3 billion could be required for the four elective hospitals in Cork, Dublin (two sites) and Galway, which are not expected to become operational until 2028, despite being first proposed in Sláintecare in 2017.

A further €100 million to €120 million capital funding is required for the planned six surgical hubs, the first two of which, the Minister has pledged, will open before the end of this year.

The capital cost of delivering all of this additional public hospital capacity could be well over €6 billion, the Association suggests.

IHCA President, Prof Robert Landers, says:

“In April 2023, the IHCA cautiously welcomed the Minister for Health’s announcement of a rapid build programme to open 1,500 additional public hospital beds across 15 acute public hospital sites. However, over a year on from this, we have yet to see any of these rapid built beds come on stream.

“Additionally, the figure of 3,000 beds falls well short of the needs which will face the country by 2031. A minimum of 5,000 additional public hospital beds are needed by 2031 – or around 700 extra hospital beds each year for the next seven years. In contrast, the Government plans to open just 91 additional acute beds in the remainder of 2024.

“At some point, the Government is going to need to start delivering on their many promises to deliver additional public hospital capacity by publishing credible, fully funded, time-bound plans. Regrettably just €245 million has been earmarked to open a small portion of these extra hospital beds up to 2027, with Minister for Health Stephen Donnely stating he would “expect” funding to be provided under the next National Development Plan for the remainder of the beds.

“Until these pledges on hospital capacity become reality, patients will continue to suffer from delayed care on trolleys in our overcrowded emergency departments and increasing waiting times for outpatient appointments and hospital treatment that will impact on their outcomes.”

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