Hospital bed units worth €29m lying idle in pay row
Published 03/04/2010 | 05:00
ALMOST €30m of newly built life-saving hospital beds are lying idle because health chiefs will not sanction money to pay for staff, an Irish Independent investigation reveals.
More than €29m has been spent on the new units and beds across the country within the last three years.
But, in most cases, an opening date has not been set yet because the Health Service Executive (HSE) claims it does not have the funds to pay for nurses and other costs.
The units include:
- A new accident and emergency unit in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, costing €11.5m.
- Four intensive care unit (ICU) beds in St James's Hospital, Dublin, costing €4.72m.
- Five high dependency unit (HDU) and cardio-thoracic beds in St James's Hospital, Dublin, costing almost €1m.
- Four HDU beds in Waterford Regional Hospital, costing €880,000.
- A palliative care unit in Limerick costing €11m.
The failure to avail of the badly needed new beds comes on top of the closure of 839 beds in acute hospitals across the State in the first 10 months of 2009.
St James's Hospital in Dublin has been pleading with the HSE for a number of years for funding to open unused ICU and HDU beds in the hospital, particularly when swine flu struck last year.
It has already warned that surgery will have to be curtailed if they do not provide nurses to staff the specialist beds.
"These beds are fully equipped and subject to approval of staffing, and can be opened with immediate effect," deputy CEO Angela Fitzgerald said in a letter -- seen by the Irish Independent -- sent to the HSE last October.
She warned that the impasse threatens St James's status as a 'hub' critical care unit.
"Having regard to the fact that the critical care facilities in St James's Hospital are routinely working in excess of 100pc capacity, it will not be possible to maintain national specialist and supra-regional services in the absence of appropriate staffing of the additional beds," Ms Fitzgerald added.
The HSE said it subsequently released an extra €100,000 to St James's to "address critical care service pressures".
However, this amount would pay to open just one ICU bed for just six weeks.
The beds were installed after it was found that "demand for intensive care unit facilities has exceeded existing capacity".
It found there had been "significant cancellation" of major elective surgery as a result of a lack of specialist beds for post-operative care.
A similar problem exists in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, which was handed the keys to the new unit in December.
The modern facility includes separate units for resuscitation, isolation and for care of the dying.
"In essence, this will reduce the risk of adverse events or outcomes for patients and meet international standards of best practice for care of the ill child in the emergency department," a HSE spokeswoman told the Irish Independent.
She said the HSE planned to redeploy existing staff in order to open the unit.
However, the HSE's own opening deadline was missed earlier this year and it admitted it did "not have a new target date as yet".
Waterford Regional Hospital also spent €880,000 on four new beds. But these are "currently not functioning" as the hospital needs €1.3m in funding per annum in order to begin using the beds.
Meanwhile, in Limerick, an entire palliative day-care unit at the Milford Hospice is empty. It was completed in December 2008 at a cost of €11.5m, of which €7m came from voluntary donations.
CEO Pat Quinlan said it was used temporarily to administer the swine flu jab but the doors have since been shut.
"Our capacity has doubled but we haven't been able to expand the services," he said. "We have an outpatients' clinic but we can't open it."
He said the hospice was in talks with the HSE to address the funding issue and he hoped it would be resolved this year.
The hospice requires more than 40 workers at an annual cost of €2.5m.