I acknowledge the challenges facing the Emergency Departments in our hospitals.
According to HSE TrolleyGAR data, there was a 8.2% increase in patients counted waiting on trolleys at 8 a.m. in Portiuncula Hospital ED this year up to the end of November 2019 compared to the same period last year. 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 2019/2020 was launched by the HSE on Thursday 14 November 2019. The aim of the Winter Plan is to ensure that service providers are prepared for the additional external pressures associated with the winter period. The increased pressures include a prolonged holiday period, severe winter weather, seasonal influenza, the spread of norovirus and other healthcare associated infections.
Nine Winter Action Teams (WAT), each aligned to a Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) and associated Acute Hospital and Hospital Group (HG), have prepared Integrated Winter Plans that will 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.
These Integrated Winter Plans have supported the development of a single overarching strategic level Winter Plan for the HSE.
The Integrated Winter Plan for Portiuncula Hospital will be delivered by Winter Action Team 2 (WAT 2), whose membership includes the CEO of the Saolta University Healthcare Group, the Chief Officer of CHO West, and the CEO of Portiuncula Hospital.
The HSE Winter Plan is supported by an additional €26m in winter funding available nationally. This is being used to relieve demand for ED services, support discharge and other initiatives to help hospitals deal with the challenges associated with winter.
Specifically, the winter funding will support access to the Fair Deal scheme and the availability of home care, transitional care, aids and appliances and other local actions to both facilitate timely hospital discharge and reduce congestion in EDs over the winter period. Specific funding has also been allocated to the Winter Action Teams to support initiatives at local level.
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.