A four-storey 96 single-bed patient unit, proposed to be built on the grounds of University Hospital Limerick, will provide for only 48 new beds at the hospital, it has emerged.
The remaining 48 beds in the proposed development will be used to replace existing bed stock at UHL, a hospital spokesman confirmed.
It had been envisaged the 96 bed unit would create 96 additional beds, however the UL Hospitals Group has confirmed this is not what is proposed.
The revelation has sparked calls from Limerick politicians for the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to address the matter urgently.
UHL has consistently been the most overcrowded hospital in the country, despite the recent opening of almost 100 additional beds, as well as the opening of a €24m state of the art emergency department in 2017.
Today, there were 42 patients on trolleys at the hospital, a significant decrease from the 82 patients on trolleys on Wednesday.
Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea said he was “flabbergasted” when asked for his reaction that 48 additional beds would be provided for in the proposed 96 bed block.
“I wasn’t aware of it. My understanding was that provision was made for 96 new beds and the appropriate staff would be put in place for the 96 extra beds, I’m really shocked,” Deputy O’Dea said.
“I got no indication of this at any stage, I’m going to take it up with the Minister for Health immediately. It’s absolutely shattering news.”
“Everybody was working on the basis that there would be 96 new beds, but the management of the hospital must have known this, so questions have to arise why we weren’t alerted to this.”
“It’s quiet unacceptable, and it’s even more unacceptable that we are left in the dark – we are public representatives, we’re supposed to represent the public and we made representations about this and got the responses which were predicated on the notion that there would be 96 extra places.”
Deputy O’Dea added, “the population is growing all of the time and we were led to expect there would be 96 new beds, and we’ve been operating on that basis for a number of years now”.
Sinn Fein TD, Maurice Quinlivan said he was “blue in the face” from raising the issue of patient overcrowding in Limerick, adding, “at a time of such high trolley numbers it is imperative to ensure all 96 new beds are delivered”.
When asked about the matter, a UL Hospitals spokesman replied: “It is envisaged that when the new 96-bed block opens, approximately half the beds will be used to replace older bed stock on the UHL site.”
“This stems from a long-identified need to move away from nightingale wards to single en-suite rooms in hospitals due to cross-infection issues. The rationale has become more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic that has made such a significant impact on all aspects of healthcare provision in Irish hospitals.”
They said “final planning permission for the 96-bed ward block was granted at the end of February 2021, and the HSE Capital Plan for 2021 provides funding for the detailed design work for the project to be progressed”.
“The new four-storey building, which will be located over the hospital’s current Emergency Department, is expected to cost around €25m and, subject to approval, will take a number of years to complete,” they added.