Healthcare system unprepared for 'tsunami' of elderly patients
We are totally unprepared for the impending "tsunami" of our ageing population which could "collapse the entire acute hospital network", according to some of the country's leading authorities on geriatric care.
Professor Michael Watts from the University Hospital Limerick is calling for the Government to reform Ireland's geriatric healthcare system to model that of the National Health Service's in the UK.
The leading geriatrician warns that the growing number of patients over 65 is putting huge strain on the acute hospital system.
According to Professor Watts, the Government has not properly enacted its plans for reform of the healthcare system.
"If you regard patients on trolleys in our EDs (emergency departments) across the country, I think there is palpable and growing evidence that our acute hospital network has begun to collapse," he said.
He added that "up-training" GPs to specialise in geriatric medicine rather than hiring more consultants could be very effective in providing the elderly with the care they need while also being cost effective for the State.
Department of Health data outlines that the proportion of bed days used in acute hospitals by people aged 65 and over has increased from 47.9pc in 2004 to 50.9pc in 2013. In that time the overall number of beds available in acute hospitals has decreased from 11,887 to 10,411.
The cost of elderly patients to the State is set to double in the coming years. By 2050, the cost of long-term care for older people in Ireland is projected to rise from 0.9pc of GDP now to 1.8pc of GDP, according to the Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "The new ED Taskforce Action Plan sets out plans to develop a comprehensive integrated care programme to support service provision for older people across hospital and community settings. It also emphasises the importance of a specific 'frail elderly' pathway in Emergency Departments.
"The recent Community Case Management Initiative (CCMI) piloted in Connolly Hospital is given as a good model, which provides a timely, efficient and well co-ordinated service for older people, assisting patients and their families in planning for future needs, minimising hospital admissions, facilitating timely discharge and helping to prevent premature placement in long-term care."
He added: "The Government has developed plans and is in the process of implementing them."