I offer my apologies for the absence of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. I am taking this question and the remaining questions on the Minister's behalf as he is not in the country due to the week that is in it, as Deputies may understand. I will endeavour to answer the questions as best I can on his behalf.
The emergency department in University Hospital Limerick is one of the busiest in the country, with the number of patients attending growing year on year. The full capacity protocol was devised to direct hospital resources towards surges in demand for emergency care, thereby reducing emergency department waiting times. The decision to deploy the full capacity protocol is a matter for local hospital management, in line with the national escalation framework. The HSE advises that the full capacity protocol was deployed in Limerick for 336 days out of 365 in 2018. Limerick was identified as one of nine sites requiring additional investment, focus and supports as part this year’s winter plan.
The problem of overcrowding in hospitals requires a full system, patient focused response. Recognising this, the winter plan investment is targeted at both hospital and community services and supports. This includes additional home support packages and transitional care beds to support people to leave hospital and return home.
It is widely agreed that a key part of the solution for Limerick is additional beds. Over the past 18 months, an additional 23 beds have opened in Limerick, including five as part of this year’s winter plan. A capital allocation of €2 million has been granted in recent weeks and the HSE advises that this will facilitate the completion of enabling works for the 60-bed modular ward in 2019. In addition, the national development plan includes a 96-bed replacement ward block in Limerick and capital funding was provided in 2018 to progress the design phase of this project.