There was some disagreement between the Minister and the IHCA about the emphasis on bed capacity as the central challenge in the health service.
IHCA President Dr Tom Ryan said in his address to delegates that bed capacity in acute hospitals is one of the “obvious problems” of the health service.
“Everyone in this room this morning is aware of the obvious problems facing healthcare. It is obvious that there are not enough hospital beds in the public healthcare sector,” he told delegates.
Echoing comments he made to the <strong><em>Medical Independent</em></strong> (<strong><em>MI</em></strong>) in an interview before the Conference, Dr Ryan argued that the shortfall in beds would need to be rectified by very significant investment.
“When Ireland is compared with other similarly-developed OECD countries, Ireland has one of the lowest numbers of acute hospital beds per capita among these counties. Many similar developed countries have 5 per cent more beds per head of population.
“The scale of the likely expansion in hospital facilities is quite dramatic.
“The number of additional acute hospital beds that are required to provide an internationally-acceptable health service is equivalent to six large hospitals such as the Mater University Hospital or Cork University Hospital or Galway University Hospital.”
However, speaking to journalists on the morning of the Conference, Minister Harris said that the issue was not just about bed capacity in acute hospitals.
“Clearly, there are significant pressures on our health service. I don’t accept though that the only answer to solving problems in acute hospitals is beds,” said the Minister.
“My Department will soon be conducting a bed capacity review and it’s already engaged with the HSE on this.
“This capacity review will look at not just hospitals, but right across the health service. This week we have 629 people in our hospitals who are medically fit to go home but they are awaiting home care packages, nursing home places, community beds. We have to look at the whole spectrum when it comes to the health service.”
Speaking to delegates following Dr Ryan’s address, Minister Harris reiterated the point.
“I take seriously what the President says, in what I agree is a fair analysis of the need for more beds. If we are serious about bed capacity, we have to absolutely look at the number of beds in the health service, but also to look at how they are utilised.”
The Minister said that he understood why consultants may have a healthy scepticism about any new review. However, he promised this review would result in the production of “clear figures” and a clear metric when it comes to how many beds are needed.