My Department routinely collects information on beds not in use in acute hospitals from health agencies on a quarterly basis. The most recent complete figures available to my Department relate to the first six months of 2003. This data shows that 50,584 bed days were lost in the period, which is equivalent to a daily average of 278 beds out of use representing just more than 2% of the available acute bed stock. The total bed days lost in 2002 as a result of closures is equivalent to a daily average of 269 beds being closed which represents 2% of the overall available capacity. The equivalent percentage for 2001 was also 2%.
It is a feature of all acute hospital systems that some beds are out of use for short periods. Bed closures fluctuate over time and may arise for a variety of reasons such as ward refurbishment, essential ward maintenance, staff leave, seasonal closures and infection control measures. Some hospitals, particularly in the Dublin region, temporarily closed some beds during 2003 due to budgetary difficulties and the application of the accountability legislation of 1998. These closures were in addition to the normal seasonal closures that take place in hospitals around the country during holiday periods.
According to the Eastern Regional Health Authority there are 89 beds closed in the major acute hospitals in Dublin and a small number of beds are also closed for refurbishment within the eastern region. There are also a number of non-acute beds closed partly due to staff shortages. I understand that the ERHA is working closely with hospitals to recruit and retain more nurses so that closed beds can be re-opened.
The figures for the final six months of 2003 are being collected by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as they are available.