The Government has approved for the next steps for the implementation of regional health areas (RHAs).
RHAs are to be introduced in phased manner during 2023 and the new structures will be fully operational by 2024.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said: “Regional Health Areas will ensure the alignment of hospital and community healthcare services at a regional level, based on defined populations and their local needs which delivers on the Sláintecare vision of an integrated health and social care service.
“Today’s Government decision marries the benefits of a centralised delivery structure with more agile, innovative, and locally-informed decision-making.
“The implementation of regional health areas and the introduction of population-based service planning are changes which will bring many benefits for both patients and staff. Our health and social care workers have been heroic in their pandemic response, putting their own lives on the line to care for patients’ needs time and time again. They now need us to support and resource empowering reforms such as RHAs across the system to make their working lives easier and to maximise their efforts in the care of their patients.
“This will allow for the alignment of services where patients and staff feel safe, supported, and well-informed at all points in their care journey. Our regional health areas will facilitate a community-first delivery model where care is provided as close to a patient’s home as possible.
“Today heralds an important step to creating a more devolved, integrated, and truly accountable health service, one that is person-centred, logically aligned, and better equips our health and social care professionals to plan and deliver services around the needs of our people today, tomorrow, and into the future.”
Mr Leo Kearns, Chair of the Regional Health Areas Advisory Group said: “As well as enabling the integration of community and acute care, RHAs aim to empower local decision-making and support population-based service planning. Following today’s Government decision, RHAs will enable a devolved service delivery framework with a view to strengthening clear corporate and clinical governance. This will ultimately strengthen our health and social care service, leading to improved patient experience as well as access to healthcare closer to home.
“RHAs will have a “one budget, one system” approach, with improved accountability and governance, more equitable resource allocation, and strengthened clinical governance.”
Nominated leads have been appointed from the HSE and the Department of Health to a joint RHA implementation team. This team has responsibility for drafting a detailed RHA implementation plan, and also includes representation from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, in light of the transfer of policy responsibility for disability services.
A business plan for RHAs has been published and a detailed implementation plan is due to be developed.