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Waiting for change

After years of being told we have enough hospital beds, it is still taking some time to process the Government’s generous plans for a number of new hospitals under the recently-published National Development Plan 2018-2027.

The €11 billion healthcare element of the plan follows the finding of the recent bed capacity review, which finally confirmed in writing what has been long known by those working at the coalface of our health service — we do not have nearly enough beds or doctors to cope with our current needs, not to mind our future, even more demanding, needs.

An additional 2,600 beds are to be provided under the National Development Plan, which will see the development of several new hospitals and the extension/upgrading of a number of others.

The plan allocates funding for a number of previously-announced projects, such as the new National Children’s Hospital, the new National Forensic Mental Health Hospital at Portrane and the moving and redevelopment of the three maternity hospitals on three new agreed sites in Dublin, while the maternity hospital in Limerick will also be redeveloped on a site at University Hospital Limerick.

There will also be three new elective-only hospitals developed in Dublin, Cork and Galway, which will provide “high-volume, low-complexity procedures on a day and outpatient basis, along with a range of ambulatory diagnostic services”.

A key principle underpinning the plan is the need to achieve greater separation between scheduled and unscheduled care so that the system can respond better to emergency care without adding to waiting lists for elective procedures.

The plan includes the addition of 4,500 long- and short-term residential beds in community nursing homes over the 10-year period to 2027, and it also sets out that additional primary care and community diagnostic facilities will be put in place.

Less publicised of course are the latest hospital waiting list figures, which, at almost 700,000 in total, to be frank, is simply appalling.

There are now over half a million patients, 502,482 to be exact, awaiting an outpatient appointment as of 31 January. A total of 73,392 of these patients have been waiting longer than 18 months to be seen. A total of 80,204 patients are awaiting inpatient procedures as of 31 January, with just under 5,000 of these waiting over 18 months, while approximately 100,000 patients remain on endoscopy and planned or suspended procedure lists. We are told progress is being made and the number of longest waiters has reduced, but really it is hard to see anything but the ongoing failure to tackle this huge issue in any meaningful way.

Last month again saw the number of hospital patients on trolleys breach 600 on a number of days, though with little media uproar — the public seems to have become resigned to unacceptable waiting list data.

The plans for shiny new hospitals are very welcome, but surely a more immediate plan is needed to properly address our current waiting list and trolley crisis.

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And on a final note, this is my last issue as Editor. I will be remaining on as Clinical Editor and contributor to the Medical Independent as I take up the Editorship of our clinical journal Update, and return to writing and contributing medical news, features and analysis to a number of publications. It has been an absolute honour to helm this multi-award winning newspaper, where the focus on independent investigative journalism, insightful analysis, sharp opinion and the latest in clinical developments has seen the readership continue to grow to new heights. I leave the paper in the very experienced and capable hands of my colleagues, including Catherine Reilly, and Paul Mulholland, who will take over as Editor in April. Thank you to all the team, contributors and readers who made being Editor such a pleasure.

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