A major part of the Government's Action Plan in response to Covid-19 was to substantially increase the capacity of public healthcare facilities to cope with the anticipated additional demand. In order to urgently ramp up capacity for acute care facilities, an arrangement was agreed with the private hospitals to use their facilities as part of the public system on a temporary basis, to provide essential services. A Heads of Terms of Agreement between the HSE and the Private Hospitals was agreed at the end of March 2020 and all 18 of the acute private hospitals signed up to it. Under the arrangement, all patients in the private hospitals were treated as public patients and their treatment was prioritised based on clinical need.
The agreement was reviewed at the end of May and the Government decided that the existing arrangement should not be extended beyond the end of June. It has however mandated the HSE to negotiate a new arrangement with private hospitals which would provide the HSE with full access to private hospital capacity in the event of a surge of Covid-19 and separately with ongoing agreed access, to enable the HSE to meet essential and elective care needs.
To ensure services are re-introduced in a safe, clinically-aligned and prioritised way, the HSE launched its Strategic Framework for ‘Service Continuity in a Covid Environment’ on 24 June. Its implementation will ensure service resumption is done in an integrated way. This will involve a phased approach to ensure community services are strengthened. The Framework will also consolidate new ways of working and build on international knowledge. The HSE is currently developing a Service Continuity Roadmap for the resumption of services across the health system.
In terms of increasing elective care activity, the HSE is seeking to optimise productivity through alternative work practices such as telemedicine and the use of alternative settings including community facilities and alternative outpatient settings.