Friday 20 April 2018

HSE will divert funds to hospitals to meet targets in 2016 strategy

Tony O’Brien, chief of the HSE
Tony O’Brien, chief of the HSE
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Hospitals are expected to have funding diverted to them from other areas of the health service next year in order to meet waiting list targets.

The HSE service plan for 2016 - setting out how it will spend its €13.1bn budget in 2016 - is to go to Cabinet today. It will reveal the extent of pressure on hospitals to deliver on services such as surgery and outpatient waiting times.

The plan is expected to allow for more leeway for hospital groups to controversially outsource some services to the private sector.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar told the Irish Independent that the plan will be built on an €880m increase and there will be no service cuts.

He said it would maintain existing levels of services. "It won't satisfy all the demand out there but it does not involve any service cuts," he said.

But hospitals that are facing growing demand from an ageing population will find it even more difficult to meet targets.

The minister said there would be significant investment and improvement in maternity care and the ambulance service.

The Hiqa investigation report into maternity services at Portlaoise Hospital will have national implications, including the appointment of directors of midwifery and bereavement teams in all units.

All children are also to be offered a new vaccine to prevent a killer form of meningitis.

However, the HSE has to first negotiate a price with the vaccine manufacturers and set a fee for GPs to administer it before it can be rolled out to babies at two and four months, with a booster at 12 months.

The proposal will come as a relief to parents who fear their son or daughter being struck by the strain, which is most common in babies and young children.

The service plan, which is the blueprint for the kind of services to be delivered next year, is expected to follow the emphasis set out in the October Budget, which strongly favoured the elderly and young children.

The HSE originally sought €2bn in its pre-Budget submission, but HSE chief Tony O'Brien said it never expected to get this and the money was aimed at covering a number of years of developments.

But hospitals will be under particular strain to deliver on targets in relation to waiting lists for public patients needing operations and outpatient clinic appointments.

The HSE had sought €17.9m for the roll-out of the meningitis B vaccine but it will be under pressure to secure it for a lower sum in the upcoming negotiations.

The service plan is expected to warn about the pressures of providing access to new medicines for a range of conditions, particularly cancer.

It originally sought an extra €18.5m in funding for cancer drugs.

The key drivers in the drugs bill are the volume of medicines prescribed and the cost of new advanced medicines that are becoming available.

The service plan will also set out a proposal to extend free GP care to children under 12 at the end of 2016.

There will also be provision for additional funding for the Fair Deal nursing home scheme to ensure that waiting times do not exceed four weeks.

Asked if the plan would include the "reform fund" the HSE chief said was lacking up to now to allow for more forward planning, the minister said it will be possible to "eke out" a small amount for reform. The choice is between funding for services and reform, he added.

The HSE, in an early draft of the plan, said that while hospitals were getting an extra €100m next year, an additional €150m would be needed in order to maintain services.

Irish Independent

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