Up to 25 per cent of acute hospital inpatient beds could be lost as a result of social distancing measures, according to the IHCA.
It says urgent funding, development and implementation are needed to increase hospital capacity to meet Covid-19 and winter demands.
IHCA President Donal O’Hanlon said: “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 Association’s call comes ahead of this afternoon’s Special Covid-19 committee hearing on non-Covid-19 healthcare disruption.
In a written submission to the committee, the IHCA said that up to a quarter of inpatient beds could be displaced due to new social distancing requirements of two metres to help limit the spread of Covid-19 in our acute hospitals.
Outpatient departments and emergency departments 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 per cent, for as long as the country is living alongside Covid-19, will also be “extremely challenging unless the existing total public hospital bed and other capacities are expanded rapidly”.
With recent NTPF figures showing 816,716 people were on some form of waiting list in Ireland, the IHCA said 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”.
In its submission, the IHCA outlines 21 priority actions for the 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.