Struggling hospitals now face €80m in HSE fines if trolley waits are not cut
Struggling hospitals are facing a new financial crisis - after the HSE warned that it will impose fines of around €80m if they fail to meet targets to ease the trolley crisis, the Irish Independent has learned.
Some groups of hospitals risk having around €12m in fines imposed in the coming months if senior health officials, who are due to make unannounced inspections next month, fail to see improvements in patient waiting times at emergency departments.
However, the HSE and the Department of Health are refusing to divulge the individual financial penalties which each hospital is in danger of having to absorb. It remains unclear what implications this will have for patient services.
And hospitals have been prevented from releasing the figures.
A HSE spokesman confirmed that director general Tony O'Brien notified hospitals of the maximum fine they will face if they fail to implement eight actions.
Despite the good weather and the reduction in flu, there were 357 patients on trolleys nationally yesterday, including 42 in Beaumont Hospital and 33 in both University College Hospital Galway and Tullamore Hospital.
The proposed actions, which are ultimately aimed at cutting the numbers of patients in emergency departments who are on trolleys for more than nine hours, include discharging patients in wards over seven days.
Hospitals also need to have specific policies in place to care for elderly patients on trolleys and cut the waiting times for "walking wounded" patients who can be treated and sent home. They have been set a series of deadlines for each action with most having to be met by the end of June.
The policy has been endorsed by acting Health Minister Leo Varadkar to address "surges in demand for emergency care".
Financial sanctions would be imposed if necessary improvements were not made, he warned.
The President of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), Dr John Duddy, condemned the political obsession with Irish Water when the health service should be top of the list in talks on forming a government.
"Irish Water is being treated as a matter of life or death while the real issues of life or death are ignored," he said.
The health budget faces a potential €500m shortfall.
Meanwhile, State watchdog the Mental Health Commission has criticised the decision to divert funding out of the €35m ring-fenced for mental health services.
Chairman John Saunders said "a key area of concern" was the staffing of community mental health teams. This had improved over the past few years, but there were still large gaps in teams for social workers, and other key staff.