Almost 3,000 new inpatient hospital beds to be delivered by 2031, says Donnelly

Shortage of beds leading to overcrowding problems experienced in hospitals such as Limerick, unions says

The planned delivery of more than 3,000 hospital beds by 2031 is the equivalent of six new hospitals, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said, but representatives have warned it “falls far short” of demand.

On Wednesday, Mr Donnelly revealed plans to provide 2,997 new additional hospitals beds and 355 replacement beds by 2031.

Of those, the plan states 1,541 are planned to be put in place by the end of 2028, with a further 1,456 beds to be delivered between 2029 and 2031.

These beds are in addition to the 1,015 hospital beds under construction or already committed, bringing the total number of new hospital beds to 4,367 in the next eight years.


The announcement refers to inpatient beds, which are for patients who remain in hospital while undergoing treatment.

A budget of €245 million has been set aside for the plan until 2027, with Mr Donnelly stating he would “expect” funding to be provided under the next National Development Plan for the remainder of the beds.

He did not answer questions on the total figure for the plan. Thecost of a new hospital bed is an estimated €1 million per bed, meaning expenditure on the plan would be in excess of €3.5 billion.

This figure would not take into account any clinical and ancillary service costs, or capital costs associated with significant enabling works that may be required for the additional beds, meaning the total could be higher.

Asked about staffing these beds, Mr Donnelly said there is “a rule of thumb” of just under three wholetime-equivalent nurses per bed, meaning there would need to be an additional 10,000 nurses by 2031.

Mr Donnelly has faced significant criticism from campaigners and representative groups, who have said there are insufficient beds in public hospitals to cater for the State’s increasing and ageing population.

Unions representing workers in the sector have said the shortage of beds is leading to overcrowding problems experienced in hospitals such as Limerick.

In a statement, the Irish Nurses and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) said to “realistically” achieve the levels of staffing required for these new beds, “we must significantly increase undergraduate nursing and midwifery places and introduce bespoke retention measures to ensure nurses and midwives stay in the system”.

“With today’s announcement it has never been more obvious that the HSEs recruitment embargo must be immediately lifted for nursing and midwifery grades,” a spokeswoman said.

“There is little point in announcing additional beds without a workforce plan in place. If this is the methodology that will continue for workforce planning it is hard to have confidence in the HSE’s ability to deliver these additional beds.”

The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association (IHCA) said it is cautious around announcements like this, as delivery of additional inpatient beds is “happening at too slow a pace”, adding the announcement “falls well short of the needs which will face the country by 2031″.

“In the six years since the 2018 Capacity Review and National Development Plan, which committed to open 260 hospital beds annually, only 1,182 additional beds have been added. This is almost a quarter [23 per cent] behind the commitment,” the body said.

“While announcements of new hospital beds may be politically expedient in a year in which elections grow closer, it does nothing to address the chronic capacity shortages which are preventing the delivery of timely care across the country.”

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times