Now prefabs are to be used as wards in bid to ease crisis
Hospitals are now being told to buy prefabs to turn into wards to deal with the overcrowding crisis.
The latest desperate bid to tackle the crisis will cause unease among the families of many patients.
Already, nursing unions have questioned if the prefabs can even be staffed properly.
The plan envisages patients who may be post-surgery, but not very ill, being accommodated in prefabs, while those who need more intensive treatment remain in the main hospital.
Patients in Mayo General, the local hospital of Taoiseach Enda Kenny, are expected to be among the first.
Other hospitals that are already out of the starting blocks to bring in prefabs are South Tipperary General Hospital and University Hospital Galway.
A spokeswoman for the HSE confirmed a national framework to ensure proper standards for these temporary structures had been agreed to ensure patient care and safety.
She said that hospitals are now free to engage in "mini competitions" at local level to see what is available and get the best price. The hospitals will pay for prefabs out of their own funding.
Director of acute hospitals Liam Woods said they offer a short-term and flexible option to deal with overcrowding but they are not intended to replace in-house hospital beds.
Health Minister Simon Harris, who earlier this week had to deny he 'wanted out of health' following a remark on Fine Gael's WhatsApp group, has been under sustained pressure over hospital overcrowding.
This week continued to see over 500 patients on trolleys nationwide. If more low-grade patients were moved to prefabs it would allow hospitals more leeway to tackle waiting lists.
But last night Stephen McMahon, Director of Irish Patients Association, said: "We are in M.A.S.H. territory here."
"To be blunt, you can have all the prefabs in the world, but they won't make a difference if you don't have the staff to man them."
Ann Burke, industrial relations officer for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in Mayo, said any measures to free up more space for patients is welcome. However, she said there is a risk there will not be enough staff for the new wards.
Nurses in Mayo General are being forced to do a huge amount of overtime currently in order to main services.
"We have worked out that [it would need] around 14 additional nurses," she said.
And the INMO general secretary Liam Doran added: "Any expansion is welcome for the health service, but the long term solution isn't prefabs.
"We're now resorting to prefabs, which is what schools did years ago when we neglected the school building programme.
"We're repeating the mistakes of the past because we didn't plan.
"There is no doubt we need extra beds and staff, but they're doing absolutely nothing to address the recruitment and retention problems."
Modern prefab design features ensure that both air tightness and sound rating exceed current building regulations.
Other features include a number of link corridors for easy access to the existing hospital, and faux brick exteriors.