At the launch of the HSE Winter Plan 2022/2023, the HSE Chief Clinical Officer has admitted the coming months carry “much uncertainty” due to the potential pressure the combination of Covid-19 and seasonal viruses, such as influenza, will put on the health service.
Funding of just over €169 million has been assigned to implement the plan, which will include the recruitment of 608 posts across a range of services.
According to Dr Colm Henry: “Our response has been to create additional much-needed capacity and to diversify access to healthcare and reduce reliance on hospitals. While these measures are all necessary and helpful, we can all at an individual level reduce the impact of Covid-19 and influenza by getting our winter vaccines as soon as possible.
“Doing so not only protects us at an individual level, but also helps protect our families and communities. We know that our immunity to Covid-19 infection reduces over time and booster vaccines restore protection for all the groups for whom it is advised.”
Among the priorities in the plan is the delivery of additional acute and community beds and increasing staffing capacity in line with the safe staffing and skill-mix framework.
The HSE also plans to extend the opening hours of a number of local injury units during the winter period.
Alternative patient pathways will be implemented to help reduce the number of presentations and admissions to hospital and improve patient flow and discharge.
The plan also includes the continued roll-out of the influenza and Covid-19 vaccination programme, and a surge and emergency response plan, in the event of a significant rise in Covid-19 infections.
A total of €4.5 million is to be provided for aids and appliances to enable patients be discharged home or to a community facility as quickly as possible.
Additional funding will be available for complex care packages which will enable hospitals to discharge patients with complex need by giving them the supports they need to be cared for at home.
Funding will also go toward additional access to diagnostics for GPs to enable the direct referral of patients for x-rays or scans.
There will be investment in to support expansion of community intervention teams across the country with a particular focus on the Mid-West and North-West region.
Funding also has been provided for an integrated action team funds which each Hospital Group and Community Healthcare Organisation can request access for specific initiatives during the winter period.
Mr Liam Woods, HSE National Director, stated: “We have worked closely with our Hospital Group and CHO colleagues around the country, providing funding to Hospital Groups and Community Health teams to allow them recruit additional staff. This includes additional ED consultants and teams to support them, including advanced nurse practitioners and health and social care professionals.
“So far this year, almost 1,066,641 people have attended our emergency departments. Of these, more than 142,458 were aged 75 or older. Many of these patients are frail and elderly and their health care needs are varied and complex. The increased demand on healthcare is due to a number of factors. Our overall population has increased significantly in the last 20 years and the prevalence of chronic illnesses such as COPD and diabetes is increasing yearly. The aging of the population and the constant development of new therapies also increase demand. The ongoing and recurring pressures on the health system will only be resolved by medium and long-term steps.
“The measures being announced today are intended to ensure the health service can provide the best possible support to the population in the coming months. Ultimately, reducing long waiting times in our EDs will require more beds in our acute hospitals and our community units and the teams necessary to staff them safely. It will also require continued development of community services and the growth in care to people at home or in community-based HSE facilities so they don’t have to be admitted to hospital unless they really need to be”.
Commenting on the publication of the plan, Prof Robert Landers, IHCA President, said:
“The provision of €169 million announced in the Winter Plan 2022-2023 is welcome, but much of this ‘additional funding’ has been previously included in existing allocations. We have grave concerns that it will not be nearly sufficient enough to address the magnitude of deficits in our public hospitals and the enormity of the challenges they face this autumn and winter.
“There are two key things that our patients need: Hospital beds and hospital consultants. Unfortunately, this Winter Plan is unlikely to make in-roads in delivering the significant numbers required of both of these resources.”