The hospital system is currently operating at close to full capacity. The number of patients attending emergency departments continues to increase year on year. HSE figures show that for the first ten months of 2019, the number of patients attending Galway University Hospital increased by 4.1% and the number of attendances of patients over the age of 75 increased by 7.9% compared to the same period in 2018. This reflects increasing demand for unscheduled care, especially by patients in the 75 years and over age group.
There are a number of factors which may affect the waiting times for older patients. In particular, people in the older age category presenting to EDs are more likely to have complex needs and be admitted then the population generally.
In preparation for the anticipated increase in demand over the winter period the HSE Winter Plan was launched on Thursday 14 November. Nine Winter Action Teams, each aligned to a Community Healthcare Organisation and associated acute hospitals and Hospital Groups, have prepared Integrated Winter Plans. These plans focus on demand management and reduction, staffing availability, timely access to the most appropriate care pathway for patients, and appropriate timely discharge from acute hospitals. Each Action Team has set out a range of initiatives it will undertake within its area to implement the Plan.
There are challenges facing the emergency departments in our hospitals. The Government is tackling these issues through providing funding of €26m for the immediate measures being undertaken in the Winter Plan this year, through the Sláintecare Strategy and the investment being made in accordance Project Ireland 2040. These measures are addressing the issues of access to healthcare and capacity in the system.
I am confident that together with the more immediate measures being undertaken under the Winter Plan and the strategic approach undertaken by the Government under Sláintecare and Project Ireland that progress will be made in addressing the difficulties in the emergency departments.