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Almost one in four beds in the hospital Cowen launched remain closed

Outgoing Taoiseach officially opened the Midland General Hospital in Tullamore yesterday but HSE figures show that despite local waiting lists, 89 out of a possible 320 beds lie empty.

Outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen officially opens the Midland General Hospital in Tullamore last night
Outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen officially opens the Midland General Hospital in Tullamore last night

ALMOST ONE-QUARTER of the beds in the Midlands General Hospital in Tullamore – officially launched by outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday evening – are not open to take patients.

The new Co Offaly hospital building, which cost €150m to build, has actually been open since 2007. Figures supplied to TheJournal.ie by the HSE show that the hospital has never run to its full occupational capacity, despite local councillors’ complaints that locals are still languishing on waiting lists for procedures such as hip operations.

The HSE said that 242 beds moved over to the new Midland Regional Hospital between June 2007 and December 2008 on a “like-for-like” basis. There are currently 231 beds operational. However, the HSE confirmed that:

In 2007, as the Hospital moved over on a like-for-like basis there were 65 beds which remained unopened. Since then a further 24 beds have been closed as a result of the public sector moratorium and cost containment measures.

Those 89 unavailable bed spaces mean that a full occupation of 320 beds is reduced by almost one quarter.

Tullamore town councillor Molly Buckley (FG) told TheJournal.ie that she and other local councillors had been lobbying for years to increase capacity in the hospital. She said:

It hasn’t been resolved. Since the new hospital opened, people are still on waiting lists, having to go to the Hermitage (in Dublin) for operations and so on. The orthopaedic department is running at about 60 per cent capacity with people waiting for hip replacements, MRIs.

The nursing staff and the frontline staff are fantastic but there is a restriction on the number of operations that can be carried out.

Cllr Buckley said the issue would again be raised at the next meeting of Tullamore Town Council on April 10.

I was at the launch last night. There was a good turnout for it, out of respect for what Brian Cowen did to help in the development of the hospital. But it’s ironic that such a fine building is half-empty. It’s a cost-cutting exercise and there is no consideration for people waiting for procedures.

The new hospital building is described as the HSE as “one of the few purpose-built, standalone hospital buildings outside of Dublin”. It opened on a phased basis between May 2007 and December 2008. The HSE estimates that from its opening until the end of this year, around 34,808 emergency admissions, 47,495 inpatient and 90,292 day case patients will have been treated.

The building itself boasts nine landscaped internal courtyards, a healing garden, a hydrotherapy pool and a fibre optic “backbone” for its IT system. The hospital is the regional centre for orthopaedics and ENT and also provides specialised services in kidney dialysis, coronary care, oncology and haematology. Clinical support services include physiotherapy, occupational, speech and language therapy, dietetics and pharmaceutical support.

Brian Cowen yesterday spoke of his pride at opening the state of the art building in his local area. He said:

We have a legacy of excellence of which to be proud and an internationally acclaimed infrastructure in this building which compliments that excellence. The marriage of both bodes well for the future of healthcare in this region.

The outgoing Taoiseach and retiring TD congratulated the architects who “designed this wonderful new hospital”; He noted:

In one major international architectural competition, it was only pipped by a new hospital in California for first prize. I imagine it was the sunshine which made all the difference there!

The architects were Brian O’Connell and Associates in partnership with Murray O Laoire. The latter firm, which was also behind the redesigned Thomond Park in Limerick, was forced to go into liquidation in March of last year because of cumulative bad debts “and the increasing difficulties in getting paid on time, or at all” by developers who employed their services.

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