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 University Hospital Waterford decreased by 0.9% while the number of attendances of patients over the age of 75 increased by 1.2% compared to the same period in 2018. Similarly, admissions in University Hospital Waterford decreased by 8.5% while admissions of patients over the age of 75 increased by 5.3% compared to the same period last year. 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. Consequently, a higher number of these patients may have to be accommodated on trolleys, pending their admission to a ward. There are also issues around delayed discharges of care which can cause congestion within hospital emergency departments.
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.
I acknowledge 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.