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Text message over opening of 60-bed unit at UHL took senior people "by surprise" 

Text message over opening of 60-bed unit at UHL took senior people "by surprise" 

The 60-bed modular block is expected to operational by the end of the year

DEPARTMENT of Health officials tipped off TDs through text message that the crucial €19.5m 60-bed block at University Hospital Limerick would be operational next month, the public announcement of which took senior hospital officials by surprise. 

On Wednesday,  October 7, at 11am, Fianna Fail TD Jackie Cahill announced on Twitter that the 60-bed block would be completed on October 30 and operational on November 9. 

Within 30 minutes, Minister of State Mary Butler, a Fianna Fail colleague, delivered the same news to the Seanad, adding: “I am sure the people of that particular area will welcome this news today.”

Later that day, the UL Hospitals Group told the Limerick Leader that there is no opening date for the much-needed project, which has been in the pipeline for over three years. The UL Hospitals Group has maintained a general delivery date of quarter four of 2020. 

Sources have said that the TDs’ announcement has “senior people taken by surprise” and that the UL Hospitals Group is “not actively working towards” that date. 

According to sources in political circles, this information was released to deputies via text message from inside the Department of Health. The Leader put this to the Department, and asked from where did it receive information that the block was to open by November 9. 

In response, a spokesperson said that the block is expected to be completed by Friday, October 30. 

“The three 20-bed inpatient wards in the new building will then need to be stocked with consumables by the hospital and receive a final clean, so it is expected to be ready to be put into operation by Monday the 9th November. This is not an opening date but rather the date of completion of construction. Opening of the new ward block is determined by the service area,” the spokesperson said. 

In correspondence to elected representatives last week, UL Hospitals Group CEO, Prof Colette Cowan said: “Please note that no opening date has yet been set out for this important project. I look forward to sharing more details of this with you in due course.”

The Leader contacted the Department, asking who had indicated the operational date of November 9, if it has made funds available for the funding of the project, and if the UL Hospitals Group has drawn down funds to recruit staff for the 60-bed block. 

While there was no response from the Department, a spokesperson for the UL Hospitals Group said that a total of 140 whole-time equivalents (WTEs) “have been assigned to support the staffing of this facility”, adding that the recruitment of these staff “are at various stages of the recruitment process”.

“We have over the past number of months been actively recruiting through both local and international recruitment campaigns. We are fortunate to have secured staff across a range of disciplines including nursing, medical, health and social care professionals, and support staff grades to staff the 60 bed facility.”

In an earlier statement, the hospital group said: “The €19.5m four-storey ward block will provide an additional 60 beds for the hospital, all single patient rooms with ensuites. The additional single rooms will help to improve patient comfort, safety, privacy and dignity and assist with the management of infection control in the hospital.

“It is anticipated that the new beds will be operational by Q4 2020. This is in line with the HSE National Service Plan 2020.”

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