University Hospital Limerick had huge increase in staff and funding before Aoife Johnston’s death, says Taoiseach

Opposition leader highlights ‘dangerous’ recruitment embargo and chaos faced by staff at the hospital on a daily basis

Taoiseach Simon Harris has questioned why services at University Hospital Limerick (UHL) have not improved when it has more emergency department (ED) consultants than any other hospital in the State and the largest increase in investment of any hospital.

“I fully accept that there is a very serious situation in University Hospital Limerick,” he told Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, but he said there had been a 42 per cent increase in staffing levels – or 1,100 additional staff appointed – since 2019. There had also been a 44 per cent increase in the hospital’s budget, “and there is no other hospital that has seen that level of increase”.

Ms McDonald had highlighted the inquest into the death of 16-year-old Aoife Johnston, who died in December 2022, and said the chaos at that time is still faced on a daily basis at the hospital, because staff shortages are a huge issue, with 200 vital staff necessary but unable to be hired because of the Government’s “dangerous” recruitment embargo. She called for the embargo to be lifted and 288 additional beds to be provided.

The Sinn Féin leader said that nursing staff were overwhelmed with patients seeking treatment at the time of Ms Johnston’s death and “staff were in an impossible situation due to severity of overcrowding”.


The Taoiseach expressed his deepest sympathies to Ms Johnson’s family, saying “I can’t imagine their pain, their grief, their loss”. He added that the report of the investigation into her death by former chief justice Frank Clarke is due at the end of May.

He pointed out that staffing at the hospital has grown by 1,100 since the end of 2019 and has gone from 2,800 to 3,900 at the end of February. That was a 42 per cent increase, with “161 more doctors, 49 more hospital consultants, 633 more nurses and midwives and 116 health and social care professionals”.

And 2,200 additional staff could be employed in the health service this year, he said.

Mr Harris added that he had raised the issue of safe staffing levels with the HSE. “I’ve been told very categorically in black and white that the extension of safe staffing to emergency departments, to general and specialised medical and surgical settings is fully funded. So I absolutely expect the delivery of the safe staffing levels to EDs in Limerick and other hospitals.” He told Ms McDonald that he would follow up on this and get back to her.

“There have been a number of very difficult issues, and there is a need to do more,” the Taoiseach said, but he insisted there was “no lack of budget or lack of willingness to do more”, and the Minister for Health was planning a number of additional measures to increase capacity.

But, he said, “there is also a need to ask ... when you’re putting that amount of investment into a hospital, why are we not seeing the improvement in patient care?”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times