No respite for A&E patients as delays to continue
PATIENTS face the prospect of having to wait on trolleys in record numbers at hospital A&E units this winter -- despite promises by Health Minister James Reilly.
The warning came from the high-level team charged with improving the running of hospitals by ending emergency overcrowding and reducing waiting lists.
The Special Delivery Unit, which was set up in the Department of Health in June, unveiled its plans for the first time yesterday -- but it will be next winter before the major improvements in trolley waits are seen.
The unit's chief operating officer, Tony O'Brien, said he could give no guarantee of achieving Dr Reilly's pledge that last January's trolley gridlock -- which saw a record 567 patients crowded into A&E departments -- would not be seen again.
"We can guarantee that no stone will be left unturned to avoid that. There are no absolute guarantees but we are working in a very determined way with our colleagues in the health system to try to ensure we don't reach that high tide mark.
"We are aiming to ensure that we will completely transform the emergency department experience in the next 12 months by reducing it down to a situation where people don't wait more than nine hours and where the majority don't wait more than six hours."
The Special Delivery Unit is being advised by Dr Martin Connor, a management consultant from the UK who previously worked in Northern Ireland where he was credited with temporarily bringing down waiting lists.
Mr O'Brien said he could reassure patients on surgical waiting lists that the other promise, that no patient would be waiting for more than a year at the end of 2011, would be met.
This is dependent on hospitals treating 4,000 more patients in the next two months and arranging private hospital treatment if needed for those on public lists.
It will be next February or March before the unit has figures on how many patients are on hospital outpatient lists to see a consultant.
Much of the success of the unit in making improvements in A&E departments will depend on getting staff, including nurses, to agree to more flexible rosters which is set to prove unpopular with those who currently condense their working week into three days of shifts of more than 12 hours.