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. HSE figures show that for the first ten months of 2019, the number of patients attending St. Vincent’s University Hospital increased by 4.9% and the number of attendances of patients over the age of 75 increased by 3.5% 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. Similarly, admissions in St. Vincent’s University Hospital increased by 5.8% and admissions of patients over the age of 75 increased by 1.3% compared to the same period last year.
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.
The HSE Winter Plan was launched on Thursday 14 November in preparation for the anticipated increase in demand over the winter period. I have 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.
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.