There were a lot of questions there, all very valid, and I will do my best to answer them as best I can in the time allowed.
First, however, I join the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in paying my respects to Tom Burke, who was a truly fine man. He was one of the first people I met and got to know when I became a Member of this House. He was a feature of Irish politics and photojournalism, and I was really sorry to hear yesterday that he had passed away. I extend to his family and friends the Government's condolences and those of my party.
I acknowledge the enormous distress and discomfort that overcrowded emergency hospitals cause patients and their families and also front-line staff working in very challenging conditions in hospitals throughout the country. I acknowledge also the risks involved in respect of infection control and delayed care.
The HSE reports that there were 292 patients on trolleys in our hospitals this morning. That is up from 164 this day last year, when hospitals were largely closed due to the pandemic, but substantially down on previous years, such as 2019, when the number was 451 a day around this time of year. A total of 292 is still 292 too many, however, and it is not acceptable that people should spend prolonged periods of time on hospital trolleys awaiting admission.
What is our plan to deal with this issue? It involves increasing our bed capacity, increasing staffing levels, modernising care pathways and expanding care in the community. Since the Government was formed, and since the pandemic started, we have added more than 800 beds to our acute hospital system. That is why the number of people on trolleys, while still too high, is substantially lower than it was in 2019, before we added those additional beds to the system. We need to add more and we have detailed plans to do exactly that, as spelt out in the national development plan earlier this week. We have also increased the number of staff considerably. The HSE has recruited between 7,000 and 8,000 additional staff so far this year and has authority to recruit more. That authority will carry over to next year, but we all understand the difficulties that exist, both in Ireland and around the world, in recruiting healthcare staff. The addition of 7,000 or 8,000 staff this year alone is a significant increase and it is making a difference.
We are also expanding care in the community, which is enabling more people to receive healthcare in their communities and ensuring they do not have to go to hospital in the first place. That is largely being done through building up our GP services, particularly by giving GPs greater access to diagnostics. We have also put huge resources into home care. The waiting times for home care are substantially down on what they were before, which means more patients can get out of hospital more quickly. That frees up beds, and the same thing goes for the adequate funding of the fair deal scheme. Those are the main things we are doing at the moment. Of course this is all done against the backdrop of a rising and ageing population and huge pent-up demand for healthcare as a consequence of care deferred during the pandemic. It is a difficult situation but the Government is very much acting on it.
Regarding waiting lists, as the Deputy knows, a task force is being established in the Department of Health to get waiting lists down. The reason they are high at the moment - they were high before the pandemic and they are even higher now - is the need to deliver the care that was deferred as a consequence of hospitals being closed or partially closed for the duration of the pandemic. That has built up a huge unmet need. The way it is going to be managed is similar to the operation of the vaccine task force, which was very successful in producing our vaccine programme. We want to take the same approach now to reducing waiting lists.