Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health, David Cullinane TD, has said that 2023 was the worst year on record for hospital overcrowding and is a damning indictment of Government failure.
He added that an extremely difficult period lies ahead for workers and patients in hospitals over the remainder of this year and next year.
Teachta Cullinane said that the Government has failed to deliver enough hospital capacity over the last three years, and added that their mismanagement of the health budget and decision to underfund the health service has left hospitals without the beds they need and constrained by a recruitment embargo.
Teachta Cullinane said:
“The INMO count of 121,536 patients who went without a bed in a hospital is a record and represents a clear failure by the Government and the Minister for Health. It is a stark warning of an extremely difficult winter ahead in hospitals.
“The five most overcrowded hospitals in 2023 include University Hospital Limerick with 21,141 patients, Cork University Hospital with 12,487 patients, University Hospital Galway with 8,914 patients, Sligo University Hospital with 8,094 patients and St Vincent’s University Hospital with 6,555 patients.
“Workers and patients will face severely overcrowded hospitals, which will have no choice but to cancel planned appointments and surgeries to cope with surging winter demand. This is simply shifting the problem from one part of the health service to another.
“This situation was avoidable. The Minister announced 1,200 new beds three years ago, and 200 of them have yet to be delivered. He has recently announced 1,500 new beds on a number of occasions, but secured no funding for them in the budget just gone.
“The Government knows that these beds are needed, and needed urgently. However they decided to sacrifice health in Budget 2024 and as a consequence threw in the towel on health care. We now have a plan for new beds but with no funding. It is a farce.
“Delivery of the much-needed elective centres is way behind schedule. The sites have yet to be identified in Dublin and the sites in Cork and Galway are at very early stages. Urgently needed surgical hubs won’t be delivered until late next year. The snail’s pace delivery means no separation of scheduled and unscheduled care with record hospital cancellations now on the cards.
“All the while, the CEO of the HSE has been raising concerns that there is no funding certainty for access to private hospital capacity. While this is an undesirable policy, it is necessary in the absence of enough beds in public hospitals.
“On top of this, the HSE is restricted by a recruitment embargo because of the Government’s deliberate decision to underfund the health service.
“Hospital managers will be left to make best use of what they have, without the necessary supports in GP and primary care to see more patients in the community, and without sufficient step-down and rehabilitation capacity outside of hospital, such as in nursing homes, to shorten length-of-stay and speed up discharges.
“We hoped that last winter, when nearly 1000 patients ended up on trolleys on a single day in early January, would be a watershed moment, and that Government would act quickly to use the year just gone to improve capacity. Action has been too slow and we are back here again, made worse by the deliberate decision to underfund the health service.
“Sinn Féin provided for an additional €1.1b of new measures in health, including 1,800 hospital beds, 600 community nursing unit beds and 600 community beds as well as additional funding for much needed additional surgical theatre capacity, diagnostic capacity, increase in training places and more funding for the transitional care fund to contract public beds in private nursing homes.
“This Government has starved the health service of new funding for next year with the vast majority of hospitals left with the same bed numbers this year as last year.
“No new funding for primary and community care of substance will mean patients will not get the right care in the right place. This Government has no plan, is out of ideas and it’s time for them to go.”