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Delays in admissions were found. Alamy Stock Photo
critical care

Plans announced for 3,000 hospital beds amid warning Ireland is 'miles away' from meeting ICU demand

The number of intensive care beds in Ireland is far below the OECD average.

LAST UPDATE | 29 May

THE GOVERNMENT HAS announced plans for around 3,000 new hospital beds, which the Health Minister said would be equivalent to “six large hospitals”.

Stephen Donnelly said the measure was a “gamechanger” and called it “the largest planned expansion of public hospital beds in many decades”.

It comes following a national audit which found that Intensive Care Unit (ICU) bed availability is insufficient to meet demand, leading to delays in admissions and discharges.

Audit

The National Audit of Clinical Audit found that the average number of ICU/High Dependency Units (HDU) beds open daily in Irish public hospitals in 2022 was far lower than in other developed countries. 

With 5.6 beds per 100,000 people in Ireland, the country lags a rate of 7.3 in the UK, and an average of 12 across the OECD.

The report found that average bed occupancy rate nationally was 92% – exceeding the recommended rate of 85%.

It also noted that larger units had occupancy rates over 95%.

Delays in admissions were found, with only 30% of patients admitted to ICU within one hour. The target is 50%. Within four hours, the target admission of 80% was exceeded.

Nine percent of patients admitted from a ward developed multi-organ failure within 24 hours of admission to ICU, higher than the 6% rate in the UK.

The report said this suggested admissions to ICU had been delayed, and that this may have been due to a shortage of ICU beds.

Additionally, delays in discharging patients were reported to have increased, with 27% of patients spending more than four hours waiting for a ward bed for discharge from ICU, up from 20% in 2021.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland, intensive care specialist Dr Andrew Westbrook of St Vincent’s Hospital said that Ireland is “miles away” from reaching the OECD average.

“We clearly don’t have enough critical care beds in Ireland,” Westbrook said.

Professor Rory Dwyer, who led the audit team, said the report highlighted both the achievements and the areas requiring attention in ICUs across Ireland.

The audit office said that it supports the HSE’s ongoing programme to increase ICU capacity, noting a 28% increase in the number of critical care beds since March 2020.

It said that adequate staffing levels were essential, and that nationally, a policy to keep one staffed ICU bed empty for immediate admissions when a patient is critically ill is vital. 

The HSE said in a statement that it has 22 additional critical care beds planned for 2024, and that on delivery, this will increase the number of critical care beds in Ireland to 352, up from 258 in March 2020.

Extra beds

Meanwhile, the plan announced by Government today will see 2,997 new hospital inpatient beds and 355 replacement beds to be introduced at various locations across the country.

This is separate to the 1,015 hospital beds that have already been promised or are already under construction.

The Department of Health said the new beds represented “a total planned capacity increase of 3,438 net additional acute in-patient beds and 929 replacement acute inpatient beds over the period 2024 to 2031”.

Donelly said he expects these additional beds to be delivered by the end of 2026. 

-With additional reporting from Press Association

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