Last week 93 patients spent a night on a trolley in Portiuncula University Hospital, Ballinasloe, which is at least in part due to the failure to provide 12 new isolation beds that were to be opened last April, according to local Deputy Denis Naughten.
“Even though it is one of the smaller acute hospitals, in the last week Portiuncula has become the 7th most overcrowded hospital in the country.
“This level of overcrowding is as a direct result of the hospital losing 10 per cent of its beds due to bed closures to meet Covid requirements.
“To address this shortfall the Department of Health, this time last year, approved Covid funding to provide 12 new isolation beds at Portiuncula which were to be delivered by last April,” Deputy Naughten stated.
The Deputy stated that the latest estimates he had received from the HSE noted that these 12 beds will not be available until June 2022.
“That means that we have to wait 26 months after losing beds before we will have any replacements, which leaves Portiuncula in a desperate situation at present.
“On top of this, plans to have a separate stream for Covid patients coming into A&E has not been approved by the HSE which adds to the risk to both staff and patients of contracting Covid in such an overcrowded emergency department.
“With the current surge in Covid infection we clearly need a specific and urgent strategy at Portiuncula Hospital to protect those who rely on this important hospital across the midlands and West of Ireland as well as staff working in the hospital,” Deputy Naughten asserted.
Broadband Plan running 8 months behind target
Meanwhile, Deputy Naughten has stated that the National Broadband Plan is now effectively running eight months behind target.
“Buried inside the budget documentation was the admission that the National Broadband Plan is now running eight months behind schedule; that’s a further two months behind the timeline presented to the Oireachtas Communications Committee by the contractor just last month.
“In reality this means that 75,000 less homes will have access to the high-speed broadband network at the end of next year than was planned when the contract was signed in November 2019.
“And while Communications Minister Eamon Ryan told the Dáil yesterday that these delays were down to Covid, the reality is that this does not hold up to examination. The work which has to be done to deliver this project is outdoor and the contractors were designated as essential workers under level 5 Covid rules.
“Clearly there are other bottlenecks in the delivery of this vital project to rural Ireland which are not being publicly disclosed, and we need to ask why?
“It is clear to me that the failure of Mobile Phone & Broadband Taskforce, established to specifically address key bottlenecks in the delivery of vital broadband infrastructure across the country, to hold a single meeting since the contract with National Broadband Ireland (NBI ) was signed in November 2019 is at least one factor.
“The last government established the Mobile Phone and Broadband Task Force to specifically address these types of bottlenecks. As a member of Cabinet, I chaired the taskforce to ensure the focus across both the public and private sector was to make things happen on the ground that would make a real difference.
“It is absolutely unacceptable that this Taskforce has not held any meeting since the signing of the National Broadband Plan contract and it is now clear that a multi-agency approach led from the Cabinet table is needed to get back on track and to fast track the delivery of the most important infrastructure project of this generation.
“The current Programme for Government, published after Covid-19 hit, promised to fast track the delivery of high speed broadband to every home in Ireland but all we have seen since then is hand-wringing and little in the way of action.
“In fact, the most significant step taken by this Government on broadband is to move responsibility for its delivery from the Cabinet table to Minister of State, Ossian Smyth, which sends out the wrong message across the public sector,” Deputy Naughten concluded.