South Tipperary General Hospital has received a much needed boost this week with the news that the HSE is to advertise for 22 additional staff members immediately - 10 nurses and 12 healthcare assistants, writes Noel Dundon.
And furthermore, the HSE has also backed the proposal to have a 40 bed modular hotel located on-site to facilitate pre and post-operative patients, thereby freeing up much needed acute beds in the hospital.
The modular hotel would be attached to South Tipp General and would be the first of it's kind in Ireland, although they are widely used in the UK and Scandanavia. It would take approximately six weeks to construct and would come fully equipped.
“Everybody knows how much pressure has been on the staff in South Tipperary General Hospital in recent times. They are working at approximately 130% capacity whereas hospitals should really be working at about 75%. I am delighted that the HSE has agreed to advertise for the ten nurses and twelve healthcare assistants immediately and this comes following extensive consultation with the hospital officials and the INMO whose members have taken the brunt of the frustrations expressed at the frontline,” Deputy Michael Lowry told The Tipperary Star this week.
The announcement has resulted in a boost to morale and Professor Paud O'Regan told us that the staffing levels are now getting to a stage where they are beginning to look more acceptable.
“There has been a boost to morale alright but the levels are now just getting back to being acceptable. There are still many challenges to be overcome and we would see this as being the beginning of a fight rather the end of one. With the closure of Cashel and the downgrading of Nenagh hospital, South Tipperary General has come under enormous pressure and the real key is to get Phase 11 of our redevelopment sanctioned - we have been waiting 20 years for that,” said Professor O'Regan who described Deputy Lowry as being “extremely effective” in progressing the issues with the hospital. “Others have shown great interest and have done great work, but Deputy Lowry is the one who has managed to push this for us all,” he said.
Deputy Lowry described news of the staff additions and the HSE support for the modular hotel concept as being “a breakthrough” but agreed with Professor O'Regan as he added that the ultimate goal has to be to ensure that South Tipperary General Hospital is added to the Capital Programme which is currently under review and which will be re-announced in November.
In the interim, Health Minister Simon Harris is expected to visit South Tipp General on October 1st to see for himself what needs to be achieved in Clonmel which has seen it's annual budget slashed by €8million in recent times to €51million - substantially lower than every other hospital of it's size in the country. The ratio of nurses/patients is currently also the lowest in the country.
The modular unit, which has been put forward following extensive behind-the-scenes work by Deputy Lowry and senior consultants at the hospital would cost the HSE in the region of€60,000 per week to operate. It would comprise a forty en-suite bed unit, with reception rooms, social areas and all necessary ancilliary facilities.
There are 170 beds in South Tipp General at the moment and they are always full to capacity, with an additional 25-30 people waiting for treatment on trolleys per day.
Crucially, should the Phase 11 of the redevelopment of the hospital get the go ahead under the Capital Programme, the presence of the modular hotel would not impede the work to be done and could operate very effeciently and effectively whilst redevelopment is underway.
Already meetings have taken place between the HSE and the senior executive planners of Tipperary County Council to ensure that planning permission does not become an issue for the modular hotel. Due to the fact that it is modular and temporary, the feeling is that planning permission will not be a stumbling block and details are being thrashed out between the local authority and the HSE officials.
“The big step forward with this is the fact that the HSE has committed to the concept of the patient hotel and they are now accepting expressions of interest for this which effectively means that they are going to tender. Minister Harris has been extremely helpful and understanding in relation to South Tipp General Hospital and is looking at addressing the short term need through the Winter Initiative Scheme. Since the modular system would be a pilot scheme it is envisaged that a number of companies will be interested in getting involved,” Deputy Lowry said.