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HSE CEO declares “unacceptable” waiting times will be addressed through new Service Plan

By Paul Mulholland - 01st Mar 2022

The HSE CEO has vowed to “devote substantial efforts” to tackling “unacceptable waiting times” for scheduled care, in the Executive’s 2022 National Service Plan (NSP).

The document, which was published today (1 March), outlines the health and social care services to be provided by the HSE within the allocated budget of €20.7 billion.

“Given the precedence which Covid-19 has taken over many important things, it is my intention in the year ahead to devote substantial efforts to the issue of unacceptable waiting times for scheduled care,” Mr Paul Reid wrote in his foreword to the NSP.

“This will not be an easy task if we do not bring Covid-19 under control again but we have a number of different levers to assist us next year, not least through the continuation of our strong partnerships with the voluntary and the private sector. Through the multi-annual waiting list plan, being developed jointly with the Department of Health and with the support of the clinical community, we are determined to make significant improvements to unacceptable waiting times, and to embark upon a cycle of year-on-year improvement.”

The NSP states the maximum time an outpatient will have to wait to be assessed by a hospital consultant will be cut to 18 months by the end of the year.

The plan aims to have an additional 210,000 inpatient and daycare procedures, and 20,000 colonoscopies, carried out in 2022 compared with last year’s Service Plan.

There is provision for an additional 1.8 million home support hours, an additional 40,000 mammograms and more than 15,000 additional cervical screens

An additional 297 acute beds are provided for, with a further 19 critical care beds are funded in 2022, bringing the total to 340.

In total, the document specifies additional investments in new measures, including those contained in the Winter Plan, totaling €310.3 million.

According to the NSP, the single biggest challenge to the delivery of the plan “is the health, wellbeing and resilience of our workforce”.

“Operating in a pandemic with service escalations, persistent additional demands and pressures for over 21 months creates real challenges for staff,” the NSP states.

Under the plan, an additional 5,500-10,000 extra whole-time equivalent staff will be recruited.

The second biggest challenge and risk relates to delivering reform priorities and improving service performance for patients “in the context of a pandemic showing few signs of abatement and an uncertain disease trajectory for 2022”.

“An imperative for 2022 is to work with staff in Community Healthcare Organisations and Hospital Groups to deliver transformational change in line with the HSE Corporate Plan 2021-2024 and Sláintecare objectives while also delivering on significant performance demands to support better patient care and patient needs.”

The impact of current and future Covid-19 surges and associated hospitalisation rates could “sustain and worsen” existing pressures in the delivery system.

“What is clear is that the health service and staff need to maintain flexibility and resilience to continue to operate in a Covid-19 environment in 2022,” according to the NSP.

“Covid-19 care demands, if they continue at the disruptive levels being experienced in the final months of 2021, will undermine the pace of delivery of service reforms in 2022.”

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