A patient was left spending 10 months longer in Cork University Hospital (CUH) than necessary due to a lack of beds in community services, the Oireachtas Health Committee heard on Wednesday.
The HSE and Department of Health informed the committee that they accept an ESRI analysis presented on Wednesday which revealed a national shortfall of up to 1,000 hospital beds. Senior officials declared that existing hospitals do not have the capacity or staff to make up for this, without new hospitals being built.
During a discussion on progress in Sláintecare reforms, which will bring about improved access to non-hospital care, examples were given of how the current shortages in community services affect patients. Fine Gael spokesman on health Colm Burke said he was aware of three hospital cases where the patients had finished their treatment but were too unwell to go straight home and had to wait for an interim bed.
“One individual was in CUH for more than 12 months, when they could have been discharged within two months of entering hospital initially,” he said.
According to Burke, there are over 200 fewer community beds now in the Cork/Kerry HSE region than there were before the pandemic.
HSE chief executive Bernard Gloster said he was not aware of the individual cases. “In general, no one is delayed in their transfer out of an acute hospital for 12 months due to a lack of a community bed. It is likely to be a very highly-specialised bed or a highly complex set of circumstances surrounding the person,” he said.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation reported record overcrowding in CUH on Wednesday, with 90 patients without a bed. HSE chief financial officer Stephen Mulvany informed the committee that the total bed number per head of population in the area is now 6.65 per 1,000 of population.
“That is bang-on the average,” he said, while acknowledging there have been a number of closures which may affect some areas.
Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane asked the HSE chief executive if there was any potential left to open beds without having to build new physical infrastructure. Gloster replied: “We need more bed capacity in the system. There are matters about how much of that or how many of that we could put in place right now, not just on the bed side but on the staff side and the work side.”
Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt said: “Very little, I think at this stage. There are two issues, there is the capital and then there’s the staff. I haven’t read the ESRI report but Id be surprised if we disagreed with it, we do need more capacity.”
Both officials said they anticipated to see evidence and impact this year from the Sláintecare reforms, which have been gaining momentum. Mr Gloster said: “It is important to recognise that we are pursuing major changes and reforms in a continuous and incremental way while at the same time operationally managing in an extraordinarily complex and demanding environment.”