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Benefits of new regional health areas ‘not inevitable’

By David Lynch - 05th Apr 2022

The benefits of the six new regional health areas (RHAs) should not be regarded as “inevitable”, according to a briefing document provided to the new regional health areas advisory group. 

The document is titled ‘A note on Sláintecare regions and the importance of geographical alignment’, dated 28 September 2021 and seen by the Medical Independent following a Freedom of Information request. 

In a section headed ‘impact for providers – clinical’, the document noted that the new focus of the RHAs on “population health underpinning geographical alignment is likely to be supported by clinicians”. 

It also stated that “the simplification and streamlining of the administrative interface between community and acute care has the potential to support their pursuit of person-centred care, although this interface will need to be carefully managed and supported to realise this potential”. 

“As well as providing services to patients, academic teaching hospitals also support the development of high-quality clinical staff and effective multi-disciplinary teams,” according to the document. 

In a section headed ‘impact for patients’, the document outlined that the “vast majority of patients are unlikely to experience disruption in the move to geographical alignment”. 

However, the conclusion stated that while the creation of the new RHAs “has the potential to result in a more coherent, connected, and responsive service”, these benefits “cannot be assumed as inevitable and will require careful management, business process change, and co-ordinated investments in ICT and e-health”. 

Yesterday (5 April) the Government approved the next steps for the implementation of RHAs. They are to be introduced in a 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.”

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