HSE bosses work on plan to avoid pile-up of trolleys
Private hospitals will help keep services going at Christmas
Plans to keep people away from hospital in a bid to avoid a pile-up of trolleys over the crunch Christmas period are being worked on by the HSE.
Private hospitals will also be used to keep regular diagnostic services going during the pinch period in order to avoid people taking up beds longer than necessary.
This year's so-called 'winter plan' which deals with the four weeks from mid-December to early January comes ahead of what experts fear will be the worst hospital crisis in years.
Last year there were 2,408 patients counted on trolleys in the first week of the year.
In an effort to avoid exceeding those numbers, there will be extended opening hours and services at local minor injury units and in some primary care centres in a bid to keep people away from A&E over the busy period.
However, the health service will also be forced to rely on private hospitals in its attempt to keep chaos in A&Es at bay.
Private providers will be used to ensure access to diagnostic services, which it is hoped will avoid people taking up hospital beds unnecessarily and also for in patient beds for post-trauma surgery patients and step-down patients.
GPs will also have increased access to diagnostics over the busy period.
Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar drew ire for his comments on staffing levels over the Christmas period in hospitals, but he has doubled down on his position in relation to keeping services open.
Community hospital groups have also been asked to provide details on plans for Christmas, including staffing capacity and rosters and their preparations for flu outbreaks and escalation plans.
The winter plan - which is due to be signed off in the coming days - also includes so-called "winter ready" clinics in communities where flu jabs and general check-ups will be provided for older people and other groups considered to be at risk.
A funding injection of €10m has been provided for winter planning.
Arrangements from last year, including attempts to expedite home-care and Fair Deal applications, will also be resurrected this year.
The push to clamp down on delayed discharges comes as new figures show the slow place of processing Fair Deal applications caused more than 114,000 hospital bed days to be lost last year.
New analysis of HSE figures shows that almost two-thirds of people whose hospital discharge is delayed are waiting to be moved to a nursing home.
The new analysis, from Nursing Home Ireland (NHI), shows delays discharging the elderly or infirm from hospitals into nursing home care led to 114,371 hospital bed days being lost nationwide in 2017. It said more than 1,200 units are available in nursing homes nationwide at any one time, but delays are preventing people accessing them in a timely manner.
The analysis also shows a drop in the numbers being supported by Fair Deal, which is thought to be down to a trend of people presenting with complex needs.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said approval for Fair Deal takes four weeks.