The number of patients attending emergency departments across the hospital system continues to increase annually, with the result that the system is currently operating at close to full capacity. I acknowledge the challenges that this poses to the emergency departments in our hospitals.
The HSE Winter Plan was launched on Thursday 14 November in preparation for the anticipated increase in demand over the winter period. The Government allocated an additional €26m to fund the implementation of the Plan. 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. The Integrated Winter Plan for Letterkenny University Hospital will be delivered by Winter Action Team 1 (WAT 1).
The specific initiatives for WAT 1 include:
- added Medical Registrar for improved medical cover;
- rapid flu testing to reduce turnaround time to 2 hours;
- additional cleaning services to improve bed turnaround time out-of-hours;
- a reablement programme to decrease presentations and admissions;
- additional aids and appliances to facilitate timely discharge; and
- hospital avoidance measures to reduce the number of patients admitted for assessment.
The Health Service Capacity Review published last year was clear on the need for a major investment in additional capacity in both hospital and community services combined with a widescale reform of the manner and the location of where health services are provided.
Progress has been made on increasing capacity. An additional 267 acute hospital beds opened under the Winter Initiative 2017/2018.
The provision of an additional 75 acute beds and 70 community beds was a component of the Winter Plan 2018/19, including 5 additional beds in Letterkenny University Hospital.
There has been a sustained increase in the number of staff in the HSE in the last couple of years with approximately 10,000 more staff working in the HSE than in the same period three years ago. With regard to CHO1 specifically, employed numbers stand at 5,459 WTEs in September 2019. This is an increase of +66 WTEs since the same period last year. With regard to Letterkenny University Hospital specifically, employed numbers stand at 1,599 WTEs in September 2019. This is an increase of +29 WTEs since the same period last year. This hospital falls within the Saolta Hospital Group which has current staffing at 9,297 WTEs in September 2019. This is an increase of +214 WTEs since the same period last year.
The Government is tackling the challenges that are facing the emergency departments in our hospitals. In addition to the immediate measures being undertaken in the Winter Plan, the Government through the Sláintecare Strategy and the investment being made in accordance Project Ireland 2040, is 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.