Harris insists hospital prefabs are just a temporary way to add beds
Plans to install a prefab unit to relieve overcrowding in one of the hospitals worst hit by the trolley crisis are at an "advanced stage", it emerged yesterday.
A spokesman for South Tipperary Hospital, which has endured severe overcrowding, said it is now ready to go to the competition stage which will see it select a company to provide the prefab, which is known as a modular unit, for its patients.
It was dubbed a 40-bed "patient hotel" last year but it now looks like it will be a modest cabin-style building.
It comes in the wake of revelations in the Irish Independent that the way has been cleared for a series of these units to be erected on the grounds of hospitals to accommodate patients and free up space.
Health Minister Simon Harris has defended the move and said they are a short-term solution to the overcrowding crisis which has led to some hospitals enduring ongoing trolley gridlock with the cancellation of operations for waiting list patients.
"We are talking about temporary modular buildings which are a quick way of adding additional capacity while we are planning the more long-term solutions," he said. "This is the quickest way of getting additional bed capacity into our health service along with additional staff."
However, it is essential that extra nurses are hired if the prefabs are to be operational.
The HSE is hoping to hire 1,200 extra nurses but it is currently locked in dispute with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) over retention and recruitment measures, which could result in a work-to-rule from early next month.
Other hospitals earmarked for the prefabs are Mayo General and Galway University Hospitals.
INMO general secretary Liam Doran said an independent staffing review estimated that South Tipperary Hospital is 46 nurses short of what it needs.
The HSE has already completed a framework setting out the standards the units have to meet in order to ensure proper care and safety standards.
Some hospitals have already been using these units on an ad-hoc basis over the years as a cheap way of getting more space.
These included Cork University Hospital, which installed a one-storey modular building to accommodate the paediatric department's day procedures ward, assessment unit and some inpatients while the existing department was being refurbished and extended.
Around 80pc of the construction was completed off the hospital campus, which minimised disruption.
The contract was worth €3.4m and it was possible to put the prefab on top of the hospital's outpatients department within a courtyard with limited road access.
Modular buildings come with a 60-year structural warranty.
Construction took place off site and from start to finish took just 26 weeks.
The hospital will ask the companies to design and develop the prefabs to meet specific needs.
Issues such as planning permission, fire certification, design and engineering, and off-site construction are all worked out in advance.
The buildings can then be transported to the site, where they are installed by suitably qualified site teams.
A bed capacity review is currently underway to give an accurate picture of what each hospital needs by way of permanent ward space.
The review will break down the type of beds needed, including intensive care or rehabilitation beds.
Ireland has 2.8 beds per 1,000 population, compared to 4.8 beds per 1,000 on average across the OECD,
Around 1,600 beds were taken out of the system over the last decade but our ageing population has increased demand.
Currently around 90 beds are idle due to lack to staff.
Fianna Fáil TD for Tipperary Jackie Cahill said yesterday he will be looking for clarification from the minister on plans for the modular unit at South Tipperary Hospital.
He said he believed it should be possible to make use of facilities in Cashel, which could be used as a step-down facility, some 12 miles from the main hospital.
But staff need to be recruited to make this happen, he added.