Hospital's cash incentive scheme to free up ward beds goes under review
The country's largest hospital will review its controversial cash incentive scheme after it was highlighted in the Irish Independent.
St James's Hospital in Dublin was offering ward teams prizes to get discharged patients to vacate their beds early in the day and move to a special lounge.
It follows revelations in the Irish Independent that a colourful poster on display in the hospital offered prizes of up to €500 to the ward that sent most patients to the discharge area before 11am.
The poster was emblazoned with the word "Win!" and declared the "Battle is on - don't miss out". The hospital removed the poster and apologised for any offence caused.
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Other public hospitals said they do not have a similar cash incentive scheme in place.
The incentive, which also includes prizes of €250 for the medical team which sent the most patients to the lounge, is now under review.
A spokeswoman said: "St James's Hospital can confirm that the posters have been withdrawn and in light of recent concerns expressed by patients and the public the hospital will review the incentivisation initiative."
She said it was "important to emphasise that staff have not and will not gain any personal financial benefit from this initiative".
"Individual wards can access the funding to be used at their discretion for patient comforts or staff development," she said.
The spokeswoman said the discharge lounge is critical to effective patient flow in the hospital.
As a result of a series of initiatives, including longer opening hours, additional staff and 'home by 11am initiative' the discharge lounge activity has improved.
It has seen a year-on-year increase in activity during October of 32pc and 81pc in November, she added.
Responding to the scheme, Health Minister Simon Harris said: "I think the wording on the poster was a bit off, to put it mildly.
"I think the fundamental purpose of wards and clinicians on wards working as efficiently as they can to get patients out of wards... they should be looking at a way of encouraging that spirit within a hospital."
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said that the method of encouraging prompt discharge of patients at St James's Hospital through incentives for individual hospital wards was "ill-judged".
However, the doctors' body said it did not take away from the underlying issue faced by hospital professionals and all acute hospitals across the country.
This is "the severe shortage of acute hospital beds", it added.
The IHCA warned that "this lack of bed capacity is placing huge pressures on all hospital staff to ensure that patients requiring treatment can access timely care, including through freeing up hospital beds and getting patients off trolleys".
"Ireland has the one of the lowest number of acute hospital beds in the EU, at 31pc below the EU average. This has led to an exceptional high bed occupancy rate of 94pc in our acute hospitals," it said.
"This lack of capacity translates in practice into significant numbers of patients waiting on chairs or being treated on trolleys, and intensifies pressures on staff.
"However the real scandal is the Government continuing to ignore this issue."