10 January 2023
By Elaine Murphy
There are fewer beds in Irish hospitals now than in 1980 – says TD
Amid the escalating hospital crisis, harrowing patients’ accounts of wait times exceeding 12 hours to see a nurse or doctor in crowded ED waiting rooms, and days spent on trolleys waiting for beds, Deputy Michael Collins has called on the government to urgently respond with an emergency plan with funding, to address the chronic health crisis, which the group describes as an ‘acute national emergency.’
Speaking today, Cork South West Deputy Michael Collins stated,
“The calamitous failure by the Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, to ‘do his job’ and provide the necessary resources to public hospitals to deliver the predictable healthcare demand capacity this winter, is a glaring illustration that he is now no longer fit to be the minister in charge.
“Since taking over the health portfolio, the Minister has blamed everyone and everything for the outrageous state of our public hospital system. However, in Ireland’s democracy, the power to make changes is vested in the Minister, and therefore, Stephen Donnelly can blame no one but himself for his appalling failure of political leadership.”
“Despite record spending on health, more patients than ever before continue to languish on persistent and growing waiting lists, while our mainly sick and older members of society are being forced to suffer the indignity of being cared for in overcrowded, not fit-for-purpose emergency departments all over the country. In spite of these catastrophic and worsening twin public hospital problems, the minister in charge offers zero solutions.”
“The lack of hospital beds is the primary cause of this crisis. In fact, a staggering 35 percent of the acute hospital bed capacity has been removed from the public system since 1980. Today, the number of acute hospital beds in Ireland is among the lowest across both the EU and OECD countries. In 1980, the number of beds per 1,000 population was 9.1. In 2023, that figure was stripped down to a mere 2.2 beds per 1,000 population.”
“In raw numbers, Ireland had 17,665 acute hospital beds in 1980 when our population was 3.4 million. Now, with a population of 5.12 million, successive governments have allowed our bed numbers to drop to only 11,337.”
“In government over the last four decades, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael pushed to close down or reduce facilities in smaller hospitals nationwide. These hospitals should have had their facilities extended and improved, rather than being forced into a managed decline, at a time when the population was increasing and people were living longer.”
“The current cabinet contains one current and three former ministers for Health in Leo Varadkar, Michael Martin, and Simon Harris. All four men have allowed our public hospital capacity to be hollowed out, yet they have all been repeatedly rewarded, despite their gigantic failings.”
“Irish people deserve so much better. The ministers responsible for this mess must be held accountable. Minister Donnelly’s ongoing failure to address this continued crisis or take any meaningful corrective actions, while throwing money at the private sector to do the work of the public sector, is simply not the solution. Instead, what is required now is an implementable plan to tackle the problem of delivering critical funding for urgently required acute beds, ICU beds, theatre capacity, and other essential hospital facilities, including human resources.”
“We fully support the call by the IHCA that 5,000 extra acute beds are urgently needed across our public hospital network, and we implore the government to act on this call with the highest degree of urgency. Inaction by the government will likely mean the overcrowding persists and preventable deaths occur,” concluded Deputy Mc Grath.
The TD provided the following background information
1. Major decline in hospital bed capacity over the last four decades:
population 3.4 million. Ireland had 17,665 acute beds in public hospitals.
population at 3.62 million. Ireland had 11,937 acute beds in public hospitals.
population at 5.12 million. Ireland had 11,337 acute beds in public hospitals.
Approximately 4,000 inpatient beds were removed from the system between 1984 and 1988, with a further 2,000 removed between 1991 and 1993.
From 2002 to 2012, overall bed numbers remained fairly static, falling only slightly from 12,715 in 2003 to 12,541. However, crucially the number of inpatient acute hospital beds fell by a significant 11.1 percent over that period, or from 11,806 to 10,492.
Population (1980 vs. 2022) + 1.72 million
Public Hospital Beds (same period) – 6,328
Source: compiled from Department of Health; INMO, and IHCA datasets.
2. Failed promises – within this four-decade period:
“One example of failed promises to rebuild bed capacity came from Michael Martin’s time as Minister for Health in 2003. The Health Strategy launched at that time, included the commitment by the Government, to provide an additional 3,000 acute hospital beds by 2011, which represented a planned increase of more than 25 percent in acute hospital bed capacity. It was described at the time by then Minister for Health Micheál Martin as “the most ambitious such commitment in the hospital system since the foundation of the State”.
Did it deliver? NO! Rather, acute bed numbers continued to drop significantly over this period. If the 2003 government promises were not broken, then we may not have such a gigantic problem today.” – said the TD