Sunday 22 April 2018

Harris keeps HSE manager 'report cards' under wraps

Mr Harris said that investment and reform must go hand in hand if we were to break the cycle of hospital overcrowding. Photo: Damien Eagers
Mr Harris said that investment and reform must go hand in hand if we were to break the cycle of hospital overcrowding. Photo: Damien Eagers
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Simon Harris is keeping a series of "report cards" he sought on HSE managers during last winter's trolley crisis under wraps.

In January 2017, as flu-hit hospitals grappled with overcrowding, Mr Harris said he had written to HSE director general Tony O'Brien reminding him there were four standards to which every manager signed up.

He announced he wanted the director general to "report back to me very clearly showing how each and every manager right across the health service is measuring up against the four metrics".

The minister was under pressure at the time to respond publicly on why A&E departments were dangerously gridlocked - a crisis replayed this winter with trolley numbers soaring to 668 yesterday, a near record high. One year later, however, the Department of Health has declined to say how many managers "measured up".

The Irish Independent asked what the outcome of the minister's 2017 management surveillance exercise was and what actions were taken against managers who did not meet the standards.

Officials were also asked whether any manager was removed from the post, but it did not answer this query.

Responding to queries on the report cards received on HSE managers, the Department of Health said the HSE had revised its performance and accountability framework for 2018.

It sets out how "individual managers will be held to account for their performance this year".

A special performance management unit is being set up this year to provide support in areas where there are particular challenges, said a spokesperson.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar reiterated that better management, proper clinical leadership, real accountability and proper responsibility were needed from the people in charge of managing the health services - rejecting the HSE's demand for another €881m funding this year.

It comes as several hospitals again reached breaking point with trolleys stacked up in A&Es, wards and corridors.

University Hospital Limerick had 60 patients waiting for a bed and others were also overwhelmed, including Cork University Hospital, Letterkenny Hospital and St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin.

A spokeswoman for the Limerick hospital said relief measures reduced the number on trolleys to 19 at 2pm. New flu cases "are presenting on a daily basis and there are currently 15 positive cases", she said.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited Department of Health- commissioned report calling for nearly 2,600 extra acute hospital beds by 2031 was discussed by Cabinet, but no decision was made on how fast they will be phased. The first signal will be in the upcoming National Development Plan.

But the report warned that if reforms are not made, with less reliance on hospitals, the number of beds needed will be as high as 7,000.

The extra beds - which could cost around €1m each when all elements are included - need to be boosted with a 48pc rise in the primary care workforce, 13,000 more nursing home beds and a 120pc rise in home care support.

It also warns that hospitals currently operate at 95pc, leaving them with no surge capacity when overcrowding hits.

This must be tackled in the short term, the report warns.

Mr Harris said that investment and reform must go hand in hand if we were to break the cycle of hospital overcrowding.

He added: "We know we have entered a relatively new phase of demographic ageing in Ireland. Our population also continues to grow. These changes will have particular impacts on the demand as older age groups are the high users."

Irish Independent

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