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Wording was 'a bit off, to put it midly' on hospital posters for cash prizes, says Harris

St James’s Hospital has been advertising prizes for wards that discharge patients before 11am.

Simon Harris at a launch earlier this month.
Simon Harris at a launch earlier this month.
Image: Sam Boal

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has said the wording was “a bit off” on hospital posters offering cash prizes to wards that discharged their patients early in the day.

The Irish Independent reported today that St James’s Hospital has been offering staff members cash prizes of up to €500 as part of a competition to discharge patients from wards before 11am. 

The contest has allegedly been underway in the hospital since October and it is aimed at improving patient flow to free up beds in the facility. The posters have since been removed by the hospital. 

“I think the wording on the poster was a bit off, to put it mildly,” Harris said today.

“I think the fundamental purpose of wards and clinicians on wards working as efficiently as they can to get patients out of wards… they should be looking at a way of encouraging that spirit within a hospital.”

The minister said it was “not [his] understanding” that the prizes were for staff as individuals.

“My understanding is these were financial incentives to individual wards rather than individual staff,” he said. 

“I’m pleased that St James’s has withdrawn those posters and I think a rewording and looking at a better way of achieving the same name, which is discharging patients quicker from a hospital.” 

Simon Harris was speaking today before the launch of the National Standards for Adult Safeguarding. 

A statement from the Irish Hospital Consultants Association said the move was “ill-judged” but pointed to the lack of beds and overcrowding as a cause for such an incentive to be introduced. 

“While the method, encouraging prompt discharge of patients at Saint James’ Hospital through incentives for individual hospital wards, was ill-judged, it does not take away from the underlying issue faced by the hospital professionals and all acute hospitals across the country. Namely, the severe shortage of acute hospital beds,” it said. 

“This lack of bed capacity is placing huge pressures on all hospital staff to ensure that patients requiring treatment can access timely care, including through freeing up hospital beds and getting patients off trolleys.

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“This lack of capacity translates in practice into significant numbers of patients waiting on chairs or being treated on trolleys, and intensifies pressures on staff, such as at St. James’ Hospital, to discharge patients as quickly as medically appropriate.”

The poster has the word ‘Win!’ on it and offers a prize of €500 to the ward that sends the most patients to the hospital discharge lounge before 11am.”

It says the competition will run from October to January this year. “The battle is on – don’t miss out,” the poster says. 

A spokesperson for St James’s Hospital told the Irish Independent that they “apologise for any offence caused”. 

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