Tuesday 16 October 2018

HSE promises to reduce waiting lists - despite having to make 'savings' of €346m

HSE Director General Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
HSE Director General Tony O’Brien. Photo: Tom Burke
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The HSE is promising that nobody will be waiting more than 15 months for surgery or an outpatient appointment in 2018 - despite seriously failing to live up to the same pledge this year.

The most recent figures show nearly 100,000 are waiting more than 15 months to see a specialist, and 7,335 are facing the same delay for surgery.

HSE chief Tony O'Brien insisted yesterday it will be possible to meet the target by the end of next year with the support of an additional €55m in extra funding.

He was speaking as the HSE launched its service plan for 2018, setting out how it will carve up its €14.5bn budget between various services.

It is promising extra money across a range of areas including home care, disability services, mental health care, hospital beds, diagnostics and scoliosis operations for children and adolescents.

But a cloud hangs over the plan, which also has to make €346m in "savings" which it says will be done through efficiencies that won't have an impact on care.

But previous plans which have imposed savings have inevitably cut into patient services.

The HSE is also promising that no patient over 75 years of age will have to spend more than nine hours on a trolley - but four in 10 elderly people had to endure longer than that target in 2017.

Question marks also remain over the Government's promise in the Budget to sanction 1,800 more staff for the health service. It has now emerged this is part of a "one out, one in" policy. Many of those who get full-time jobs in the health service next year are already working there through agencies, which means much the same number of bodies will be on the ground at the patient's bedside and elsewhere.

Although more funding is to be invested in mental health, there is no commitment to have a 24-hour service, which is key to responding to people in suicidal distress who may have nowhere to go but an overcrowded A&E department.

It makes no mention of the Government promise to extend free GP care to more children.

A key promise is more beds, and these are earmarked for a number of hospitals including University Hospital Limerick, Cork University Hospital, University Hospital Galway and St Luke's in Kilkenny.

The plan said people applying for home help or a homecare package should have a simpler application process. The aim is to deliver 17 million home help hours to 50,000 people.

It concedes, however, this will not meet demand and waiting lists will continue.

The Fair Deal scheme is being allocated €962m to support 23,334 people in nursing homes.

The prescription charge for medical card holders will come down from €2.50 to €2 from January.

The drug payment scheme threshold will also be reduced from €144 to €134 a month.

Health Minister Simon Harris said he will bring an implementation plan for the Sláintecare report - the cross-party blueprint for the health service in the next decade - to Cabinet in January.

He said he will also include the findings of a review, setting out where extra hospital and other beds should be allocated, in the capital plan for next year.

He revealed he is no longer going ahead with a proposal to set out a future plan for services in Portlaoise Hospital, which he said would have been ready at the end of this year.

Instead, he is to begin consultations with doctors in the hospital and in the community which was absent from a plan drawn up by the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, which includes Portlaoise.

It proposed its downgrading over the coming years with the loss of its 24-hour A&E and the removal of maternity services. It has led to angry local reaction.

The hospital is in the constituency of Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan, who has been a strong defender of the retention of services.

Mr Harris said it will be next year before a decision is made on Portlaoise, and even then it will be years before any changes would be made.

Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath said he welcomed the extra funding for disabilities.

Irish Independent

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