In developing the National Action Plan on Covid-19 the pre-existing capacity constraints within the Irish Hospital system were well recognised. Ireland has the highest acute bed occupancy in Europe at 93%, one of the lowest levels of critical care beds per 1,000 of the population in Europe at 3.3 and has one of the lowest numbers of specialist doctors per 1,000 of the population at 1.4. Due to these issues there was a significant risk that Ireland’s hospital system would become overwhelmed very quickly.
Recognising this risk there were several measures identified in the action plan to address the critical capacity issues in the system: Expansion and repurposing of existing bed capacity to deliver more acute care, obtaining additional temporary capacity outside of the public system as required, and redirecting services from the hospital system to the primary care/community system where possible.
In 2020 €190m was allocated to the enhancement of existing capacity in the public hospital system through repurposing and expansion, a further €330m was provided to acquire the full capacity of the private system in the initial response to the pandemic and subsequent access for non COVID urgent patients to maintain acute/critical care capacity in the public hospitals. Recognising the urgent staffing demands arising from the increased acuity of patients in the public hospitals an additional €75m was provided for to recruit medical interns and student nurses.
In 2021 an additional €313m has been allocated to the further expansion of hospital capacity, along with establishment of the Access to Care fund with an allocation of €210m which will also provide additional capacity across the public and private sector.