Over €6bn required to meet Government commitments on public hospital capacity and reduce waiting lists - IHCA


The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) says the Government must commit an estimated €6 billion in capital funding in order to increase the number of acute hospital beds and theatre capacity in public hospitals. The funding is essential to deliver on Government promises to build and open essential hospital improvements.

Commenting on the newly released National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) figures for the end of May, the IHCA said that over 907,000 people are currently on some form of NTPF waiting list, which is an increase of 323,000 (55%) since the publication of the Sláintecare Report in May 2017.

This comes despite the Government’s €437 million 2024 Waiting List Action Plan setting a target to reduce waiting lists for appointments and hospital treatment by almost 6% (-39,300) by the end of December compared with the number waiting at the start of the year. However, the first five months of 2024 alone have seen the three main waiting lists increase by over 33,000, or 5%. 

The Association responded cautiously late last month to the publication of the Government’s Acute Hospital Inpatient Bed Capacity Expansion Plan, which pledges to open an additional 3,000 hospital inpatient beds by 2031. Consultants say previous broken promises on hospital beds has meant that badly needed additional capacity has either not materialised or has been delivered at too slow a pace.

With the capital cost of each hospital bed estimated at between €0.75m and €1.1m, the IHCA is calling on the Government to commit up to €3.3bn required to deliver the additional 3,000 beds. However, a budget of €245m has been set aside through the National Development Plan to open just a fraction of these extra hospital beds up to 2027.

In addition, the IHCA estimates that a further €3bn could be required for the four elective hospitals in Cork, Dublin (two sites) and Galway, which are not expected to become operational until 2028, despite being first proposed in Sláintecare in 2017. A further €100m to €120m capital funding is required for the planned six surgical hubs, the first two of which, the Minister has pledged, will open before the end of this year.

The capital cost of delivering all of this additional public hospital capacity could be well over €6bn, suggests the Association.

IHCA President, Prof Rob Landers, says, “In April 2023, the IHCA cautiously welcomed the Minister for Health’s announcement of a rapid build programme to open 1,500 additional public hospital beds across 15 acute public hospital sites. However, over a year on from this, we have yet to see any of these rapid built beds come on stream.

“Additionally, the figure of 3,000 beds falls well short of the needs which will face the country by 2031. A minimum of 5,000 additional public hospital beds are needed by 2031 – or around 700 extra hospital beds each year for the next seven years. In contrast, the Government plans to open just 91 additional acute beds in the remainder of 2024.

“At some point, the Government is going to need to start delivering on its many promises to deliver additional public hospital capacity by publishing credible, fully funded, time-bound plans. Regrettably, just €245 million has been earmarked to open a small portion of these extra hospital beds up to 2027, with Minister for Health Stephen Donnely stating he would “expect” funding to be provided under the next National Development Plan for the remainder of the beds.

“Until these pledges on hospital capacity become reality, patients will continue to suffer from delayed care on trolleys in our overcrowded Emergency Departments and increasing waiting times for outpatient appointments and hospital treatment that will impact on their outcomes.”

(Source: IHCA)


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