Wednesday 18 October 2017

Private hospital beds hired in desperate A&E meltdown plan

Health Minister Simon Harris held emergency talks with the HSE yesterday in a bid to solve the severe overcrowding in our hospital system
Health Minister Simon Harris held emergency talks with the HSE yesterday in a bid to solve the severe overcrowding in our hospital system
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Private hospitals will be hired at taxpayers' expense in a desperate bid to deal with the current A&E trolley crisis.

Health Minister Simon Harris held emergency talks with the HSE yesterday in a bid to solve the severe overcrowding in our hospital system.

The executive outlined a series of measures to tackle the high numbers of patients waiting in A&E departments.

At least 63 extra acute hospital beds will be opened across the country and an additional 60 transitional care beds will be introduced across 10 acute hospitals including St James's Hospital, Galway, Drogheda and Wexford.

A number of private hospitals have been identified that can provide support to the public hospital system in the near term including Kilkenny, Mullingar and Cork.

Additional diagnostic services such as X-ray and ultrasound will be made available to GPs through existing private providers in a number of locations, while hospital groups will work with nursing homes to offer support in managing influenza.

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

Read more: Hospital forced to isolate contagious patients with curtains as overcrowding continues

"These measures are designed to address the current significant demands on the health service as a result of the increased numbers of patients attending EDs at this time of year as well as a spike in flu-like illnesses and the winter vomiting bug," a spokesperson said.

"This flu is exacerbating an already challenging situation in our hospitals and community due to its early arrival and the fact that this strain (AH3) affects older people in the main."

The additional measures were announced following a meeting between Mr Harris and HSE director general Tony O'Brien.

Earlier, Mr Harris's Cabinet colleague Shane Ross said the minister planned to "kick ass" when he met HSE management.

Nursing Homes Ireland issued a release outlining that more than 700 beds are available within almost 200 member nursing homes.

Meanwhile, Department of Health officials have been accused of "deliberately downplaying" HSE warnings about the risks of overcrowding in hospital wards before it unveiled its multi-million-euro plan to tackle the trolley crisis.

It emerged yesterday that HSE officials had warned that Mr Harris's €40m 'winter initiative' might not be enough to reduce the number of people on trolleys in winter.

However, Department of Health officials asked for the warning to be put at the back of the public document so the plan could focus on the "positive" measures being introduced.

An internal departmental memo uncovered by journalist Ken Foxe said: "We fully understand the need to include assumptions and dependencies, and you are of course correct in stating that unusually high demand and other factors could hypothetically have an adverse effect on delivery.

"However, we would advise, prior to publication, that this section might be moved to the end of the submission; we would prefer to focus on the very positive effects of the proposed initiative, towards the beginning of the document."

Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly accused officials of "deliberately downplaying" HSE warnings and called on Mr Harris to state how much he knew about the decision.

Read more: Row of 'at least 16 ambulances' pictured outside A&E at major hospital - with nowhere to drop off patients

"The minister should clarify whether he was fully aware of the significance of the HSE warnings on a flu outbreak," said Mr Kelly.

"He also needs to make clear if he wanted the risks downplayed to encourage more positive reporting on his plan."

Sources close to the minister last night insisted Mr Harris was unaware of the decision taken by officials and said his team of political advisers did not sanction civil servants to make the changes to the final version of the report.

Separately, Mr O'Brien defended hospital managers after Mr Harris suggested he remove those failing to take control of the trolley crisis.

However, Mr O'Brien said "right now is the wrong time" to discuss removing managers despite hospital staff struggling to reduce the worst ever backlog of patients on trolleys.

The HSE boss said the factors causing the overcrowding were "outside the control" of hospital managers. Asked how much it would cost to resolve the overcrowding problem, Mr O'Brien said: "Hundreds of millions".

Irish Independent

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