I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important issue for debate. Last Friday I attended a briefing at University Hospital Limerick, UHL, given by Professor Colette Cowan, Professor Paul Burke and their team. UHL experienced severe overcrowding in 2018. It is a longstanding issue which is not going away. It must be addressed. Management has put forward a number of proposals which need the support of the Department of Health and the Minister for Health. A lack of bed capacity is a major issue at UHL. The proposal to build a 60-bed modular unit at UHL now has the benefit of planning permission. Originally there was an objection lodged with An Bord Pleanála but that has since been withdrawn. It is a shovel-ready project. It now requires €40 million to construct it. Following discussions with the Minister, Deputy Harris, I am very confident this essential project will be given funding in the not too distant future. Will the Minister of State confirm this to be the case? Once funding is confirmed and the green light is given to the project, management is very confident that the project can move forward and will be in place for winter 2019.
In the more immediate term, it is important the winter admissions plan being put forward by management in Limerick is responded to positively. This proposal includes bringing ten additional beds into use, extension of the MAU to a 24-7 service and the establishment of a 24-7 surgical admissions unit which would facilitate direct referrals to it. These initiatives will reduce the overcrowding issues at the emergency department.
I welcome the recent opening of a second emergency department surgical theatre at UHL on Sundays. It is an issue I raised in the Chamber a number of weeks ago. I have raised it repeatedly. It is a welcome development. Management has also put forward the need to open up a second surgical theatre in the emergency department on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I support that proposal and I ask the Minister of State to support it as well.