By Conor Kane
A new 40-bed modular unit designed to alleviate pressure at one of the country's most overcrowded hospitals could be open by next spring after planning permission was secured for the development.
Tipperary County Council has given the green light for the E6 million unit at South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel, which is regularly near the top of the list for trolley use for patients and often has trolleys in corridors and public areas as well as wards.
Consultants and staff at the hospital, which includes maternity services as well as a busy accident and emergency unit, surgery and other acute and general medical facilities, have been pressing for extra accommodation for years to help relieve pressure on beds.
Minister for Health Simon Harris announced last autumn that a new modular unit was to be built at the Clonmel hospital - formerly known as St Joseph's - while the development of a new E50 million capital plan is also expected.
The county council approved necessary ground works for the two-storey modular unit earlier this year and has now granted full permission for the development.
Construction can start in the coming months, provided no appeals are lodged with An Bord Pleanála.
The new unit will be located to the rear of the main hospital building and will be accessed by a new single-storey link corridor at first-floor level.
It follows the opening last year of an 11-bay room which was part of measures aimed at reducing the amount of trolleys in corridors and other public areas.
The unit is located within "the curtilage" of South Tipperary General Hospital which is a protected structure and on a large campus overlooking Western Road in Clonmel.
News of the planning permission has been welcomed by independent TD Seamus Healy, a former manager at the hospital.
He said the construction and completion of the modular facility should "dovetail" with the HSE's recruitment of new staff.
"I'm optimistic that, once the unit is complete, that it will be able to be open probably in late February or early March of next year," Mr Healy said.