In the Dáil the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar confirmed to me that thirty new beds for the Emergency Department at UHG are to open later this month/early in January.
I raised UHG with Minister Varadkar during Questions to the Minister for Health and also sought figures on the number of additional staff that have been recruited this year.
This year there are 689 new staff across the Saolta Hospital Group with 38 having been assigned to emergency departments. Hospitals have also been given the power to deploy or redeploy staff within each hospital to meet increased demands on services.
The thirty new beds for the emergency department on course to open this month, or in January at the latest, will help reduce overcrowding and improve conditions for patients as well as staff.
The INMO’s figures show that there were few people on trolleys in UHG in November of this year than at the same time last year which, as the Minister pointed out, is due in part to the extra 14 beds that have opened in Merlin Park Hosptial.
I further welcome clarification from Minister Varadkar that the Capital Plan for Health is focusing on national projects such as the New Children’s Hospital, and that the upgrade of UHG’s emergency department will proceed irrespective of the contents of the Capital Plan.
This clarification clears up the deliberate attempt by the Opposition to cause fear and confusion by stating UHG’s emergency department was not included in the as yet unpublished Capital Plan.
As Minister Varadkar emphasised in his replies to my questions improving accident and emergency care is linked to wider improvements in the hospital in general. These improvements are being brought about with additional staff, the 30 new beds on the site of old physiotherapy and social work department, and through the construction of the new 75 bed facility on the UHG campus.”
Transcript from Dail:
Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for Health the proportion of the several hundred additional staff recruited to hospitals in 2015 to date who have been assigned to emergency departments; and the projected numbers to be recruited to the acute hospitals in the next 12 months.
Deputy Seán Kyne: The question is about the several hundred additional nursing staff who have been recruited to hospitals in 2015. How many of them have been assigned to emergency departments and what is the projected number to be recruited to acute hospitals in the next 12 months?
Minister Leo Varadkar: In the past eight years a general moratorium on recruitment and promotion, coupled with an employment control framework, has contributed to a fall in employment across the public health sector and the wider public service. Arising from budget 2015, restrictions on the employment of additional staff were eased in 2015.
In December 2014 I convened the emergency department task force to provide a focus and momentum in dealing with the challenges presented by overcrowding. In 2015, €117 million in additional funding was allocated specifically to address overcrowding in emergency departments, including through the ongoing recruitment of front-line staff.
It is recognised that the solution to the problem of emergency department overcrowding is to be found through putting in place alternatives to hospital admission and services which facilitate earlier discharge, as well as in addressing the efficiency and capacity of hospitals in delivering acute treatment. Accordingly, the solution requires improvements in both the wider hospital beyond the emergency department, as well as in primary and social care and community services.
Health Service Executive figures show there was a 8% reduction in overcrowding in November compared to November last year. While the INMO, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, figures show a 4% increase, they also show a significant improvement in the second half of November. This contrasts with the position throughout the year when we were running 24% ahead of the figure in the preceding year. This morning there were 244 patients on trolleys, 110 for more than nine hours. That is 23% lower than the figure this day last year.
A total of 4,643 staff members have been recruited by hospital groups in the past year. They includes replacement staff. The increase in the number of whole-time equivalent staff during the same period was approximately 2,500. Of the staff recruited, 254 have been assigned to emergency departments.
The HSE is finalising its national service plan for 2016, meaning that it is not possible at this stage to predict the additional emergency department staff numbers for 2016. However, hospitals have authority to deploy staff in the most effective way possible within agreed funding levels.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I thank the Minister for his reply. I note an additional 41 nurses have been appointed to University Hospital Galway since October 2014. An additional 146 staff were recruited overall to the hospital, including 29 non-consultant hospital doctors, six consultants and 19 allied health professionals. Because of overcrowding and the concerns about the emergency department in the hospital which hit the headlines during Leaders’ Questions yesterday, I welcome the Minister’s statement on proceeding to design stage in 2016 for a new emergency department at the hospital. Will he provide more clarity in this regard? As the Taoiseach said yesterday, the facilities are not fit for purpose. Having visited the emergency department recently, I know that the Minister agrees with the Taoiseach’s statement yesterday.
Minister Leo Varadkar: I do not have the detailed staff figures for University Hospital Galway. In the Saolta group there has been an increase of 689 staff this year, 38 of whom were assigned to emergency departments.
Many emergency departments are old and out of date and there has been considerable investment in them in recent years. There is a new emergency department in Wexford. The one in Kilkenny has just been completed and will be opened in the next few months. A new emergency department in the Mater Hospital was opened in 2013. Construction is under way on the new emergency department in Limerick. There is an extended emergency department in Tallaght hospital. The emergency department in Clonmel is being upgraded, while an extended department is under construction in Mullingar. The planning application for the national children’s hospital new emergency department and satellite centres is before An Bord Pleanála. It is fair to say that in the past five years there has been more investment than ever in new and extended emergency departments. The difficulty is that much of the health infrastructure remains old, some of it is 200 years old. One cannot replace all of it overnight and it will take some time to do so.
It is acknowledged that even if there was no overcrowding in Galway, the emergency department is out of date and needs to be replaced. The intention is to proceed to design and planning stage in 2016 to allow work to proceed in the years to come. Just because it is not specifically mentioned in the six-year capital plan does not mean that it is not going to happen. The capital plan refers to national projects and programmes, not individual wards or departments in hospitals across the country.
Deputy Seán Kyne: I welcome the clarification, as there has been misinformation or slightly skewed information. I welcome the Minister’s intention to proceed to design stage in 2016 for a new emergency department in Galway. Obviously, there is a nursing shortfall, which I understand is worldwide. Will the Minister clarify the provision of additional facilities in Galway such as the 75-bed ward which is under construction, the 30 extra beds planned for the old physio ward which are due for delivery in early spring and the 14 beds to be provided in Merlin Park University Hospital in May? These additional facilities will help to ease overcrowding in the coming months. The emergency department is still a significant issue and the staff in it do a tremendous job in difficult circumstances.
Minister Leo Varadkar: Specifically on the position in Galway, I do not have the official figures, but the most recent figures from the INMO showed that there were 480 patients on trolleys at some point during November in University Hospital Galway, down from 536 in the same month last year. The additional beds in Merlin Park University Hospital probably helped in that regard. More is being done. Up to 30 beds will be provided in the old physio and social work department which is under construction. I am hoping it will be opened in December. If not, it will be opened in the new year. The new 75-bed block is under construction and will mainly consist of individual beds in individual rooms, providing for a much more modern standard of hospital accommodation. It will be completed in 2017. It is intended to proceed to planning and design stage for the new emergency department in 2016. As I said, even if there was no overcrowding in the emergency department in Galway, the facility is out of date and needs to be replaced and modernised.