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Plan to alleviate UHL overcrowding facing challenges

Solving overcrowding at University Hospital Limerick.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced measures to do that when he visited UHL yesterday.

One of those measures is to use a new state-of-the-art 50-bed nursing home in Nenagh, Co Tipperary for a year as a privately operated step-down facility taking overflow from UHL.

Speaking at UHL yesterday, Mr Donnelly said the continued problem of overcrowding is “not acceptable” to him as minister.

“In an effort to alleviate the problem I have agreed with the HSE a number of measures which, I hope help,” he said.

“A procurement process has been initiated for the operation of the new 50-bed Community Nursing Unit in Nenagh as a step down sub-acute and rehabilitation facility for this hospital (UHL) for one year until the first 96-bed block is opened,” he added.

Stephen Donnelly seen at UHL yesterday

RTÉ News has learned that the plan is facing challenges.

First, unions have lodged a complaint with the Workplace Relations Commission over what is happening. They say the HSE is in breach of national agreements, and are angry the step-down facility will be run by a private provider.

SIPTU’s health official in the Midwest region Mark Quinn, who is also chair of the CHO3 union group which includes the INMO and Fórsa, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: “We want the facility used for what it was purposely built for and we are not going to be standing back and allowing the HSE to just railroad through processes without consultation and agreement with the unions”.

The 50-bed facility was due to replace an older 25-bed nursing home – St Conlon’s – in Nenagh town.

Because of the change of use of the new 50-bed unit, a problem is brewing for St Conlon’s home.

The home’s registration with HIQA runs out months before the new 50-bed is available as a nursing home.

HIQA confirmed St Conlon’s registration is up for renewal by 19 June of this year. The new facility will not be available to be used as a nursing home until 2025.

Nursing homes need to be registered with HIQA, which involves its Chief Inspector deeming the facility fit-for-purpose. Once granted, the registration lasts for three years.

Local Labour TD Alan Kelly is furious. He says he is aware of 30 families looking to get access to the nursing home for loved ones.

“What about those 30 families? What about the 30 people who will not get into this facility?” said Mr Kelly.

“If this goes ahead, where will they put these people? Can I ring up the regional manager and say I need you to put this gentleman or this lady into a nursing home somewhere else outside of their community where they won’t have beds? Where they won’t have facilities?” he asked.

He added: “What will happen is they’ll be left in acute settings for months. There are people being left inside hospitals around the country for months on end because they’re so high dependency and they can’t get into a nursing home.”

“I find it absolutely scandalous that the HSE, who screwed Nenagh by taking away coronary care, by taking away its A&E, by taking away our intensive care in 2009, and now coming back for a second time to screw us all again by taking away our publicly and publicly-funded nursing home – which was built for the elderly of Nenagh and surrounds.

“To me it’s one of the most difficult, one of the saddest, one of the most disgusting and particularly very hurtful decisions in my political career,” Mr Kelly added.

The HSE said in a statement it is “progressing plans for the long-term, continued use of St Conlon’s as a community nursing unit, and will shortly begin a process to enable it recruit the staff necessary to run the new 50-bed facility when it opens next year.”

Alan Kelly said it was ‘one of the most disgusting’ decisions he’s seen in his political career (file image)

Originally the unit could not open because the HSE could not get staff to run it because of its own hiring embargo.

The HSE statement continued: “In parallel with this recruitment process, the HSE is also aware of the significant bed capacity constraints and pressures at University Hospital Limerick, which serves Nenagh and the wider region. A decision has been made by the Regional Executive Officer in HSE Mid West to utilise the new building as a temporary measure as a step down sub-acute facility while the recruitment to operate the facility is ongoing.”

The intended short-term repurposing of the facility is to ensure maximum use of all available bed capacity across the region. This is to mean that frail and mostly older adults in UHL who no longer require acute care can transfer to the unit in Nenagh for ongoing rehabilitation and discharge planning.

This interim use as a step-down facility will greatly support patient flow across the region, and in particular for older people, pending the completion of the first of two new 96-bed blocks for UHL scheduled to be completed in early 2025.

St Conlon’s is registered with HIQA and will continue to provide care services at its current location for the interim period. The HSE has every intention and is fully committed of then moving to the long-term use of the new CNU to replace St Conlon’s,” said the HSE.

Louise Walsh, whose mother-in-law also lives at the old St Conlon’s home, said she is “devastated” the new 50-bed unit will not open as a nursing home in the near future.

“The staff have made the best of the situation there in terms of the facilities. The rooms are very cramped and small,” she said.

“There are so many families who don’t have a place in a nursing home and they’re in a lot worse situation. I was devastated for them because I know there are people waiting to get in. I was devastated for the residents because they were all looking forward to having a better quality of life.

“Also to hear it is going to be a private company coming in here and running this – it’s shocking really,” added Ms Walsh.

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