Minister Simon Harris speaking to Helen O'Brien, whose sister was in UHL Picture: Brian Arthur
MINISTER for Health Simon Harris has said that it is an “absolute priority” that the new emergency department at University Hospital Limerick is delivered next May.
Last Friday, during his first visit to the hospital as Minister for Health, Deputy Harris met with patients in the overcrowded A&E — moments before launching the new Leben Building, which cost €16.5m to deliver.
At a short press briefing in the complex, Minister Harris said that there is a “clear need” for a new emergency department.
After observing the A&E, he said it had a “real impact” on him.
“I am very conscious, as Minister for Health, that you can't do your job by just sitting behind a desk in Dublin. That's why I have visited, in or around, 20 hospitals since taking up this job about five months ago. Some of them have been announced visits, and some of them have been unannounced visits.
“But what I was struck by today, despite the most difficult, physical circumstances in terms of an ED that is clearly too small, that has a low roof, that has packed corridors, every patient I was speaking to, telling me privately, that the care they were receiving from the staff is exceptional.
“And that leaves me with a very clear message — the staff are doing a great job, invest in the infrastructure, give them the facilities and therefore the patient experience will improve,” he explained.
He said that the new A&E will help boost recruitment and retention at UHL, but stressed that “there is still a journey to go” in relation to filling an additional 6,000 jobs that were lost, as a result of Government cuts.
The new A&E at UHL will be three times’ the size of the current facility in Dooradoyle.
This advancement will require, in the region of, 100 additional nurses and doctors to deliver the full service.
However, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has previously cast doubt on the likelihood of hiring 100 extra staff within the next nine months.
"In relation to recruiting and retention, there are number of initiatives being worked up within my department, but I think that the strongest signal that I can send, as Minister for Health, to encourage people to work within our health service, is to say very clearly that we are now back in a period of reinvestment, after years of having to cut health budgets,” he said.
He added that UL Hospitals management “have a body of work to do” in terms of advertising and filling the jobs, in preparation for the new A&E.
“The fact that we are now offering nurses permanent contracts; not this idea of 'Come and work with us for a few months' when countries, like the UK, were trying to take our nurses and offer them permanent jobs. And there are number of issues that I am working through the INMO. There is a journey. We won't get to where we want to get to overnight,” he said.
Minister Harris spent 20 minutes with patients and staff in the emergency department.