I acknowledge the challenges facing the emergency departments in our hospitals.
According to HSE, there was a 2.7% increase in ED attendances nationally this year up to the end of October 2019 compared to the same period last year. The number of attendances for patients in the over 75 age group also increased by 3.3% nationally. My Department has engaged extensively with the HSE this year to identify mitigating actions to bring down trolley numbers and waiting times in the ED in the face of growing demand.
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. Specific funding has been allocated to support initiatives at local level. These include:
- Additional medical, nursing, therapies support, pharmacy and lab staff to improve patient experience time, improve senior clinical decision making, reduce length of stay, and facilitate weekend discharges;
- Additional Aids and Appliances to facilitate timely discharge;
- Additional home support hours to facilitate early hospital to community transfers;
- Communications to facilitate hospital avoidance and public health awareness;
- Implementing Frail Intervention Therapy Teams for admission avoidance and reduced admissions of patients over-75;
- Additional Flu testing kits to improve Patient Experience Time.
Steady progress is also being made in increasing bed capacity with the number of available inpatient beds expected to increase to above 11,000 following the investment planned in the National Service Plan 2019.
In addition to the immediate measures being undertaken in the Winter Plan the Government through the Sláintecare Strategy is addressing the issues of access to healthcare. The Sláintecare Action Plan for 2019 has a specific workstream on access and waiting lists. The Government is also increasing investment in health infrastructure and capacity in the system in line with Project Ireland 2040.
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 that progress will be made in addressing the difficulties in the emergency departments.