Friday 6 December 2019

Remove managers who fail to fix trolley crisis - Harris

Minister tells HSE chief to hold senior hospital staff accountable; Record numbers languish on wards despite major investment

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Philip Ryan and Ian Begley

Health Minister Simon Harris urged the director general of the HSE, Tony O'Brien, to consider removing hospital managers who are failing to reduce the record number of patients languishing on trolleys in overcrowded wards.

In a strongly worded letter, Mr Harris told Mr O'Brien to hold senior hospital managers accountable and implement policy which allows him to sanction under-performing HSE staff.

The HSE's accountability framework allows Mr O'Brien to discipline managers up to and including removing them from their post. The letter was sent to Mr O'Brien late last night and Mr Harris is due to meet with the HSE chief today for an update on the trolley crisis.

"Minister Harris emphasised the need for managers to be held accountable under the accountability framework which measures their performance on providing access to services for patients as one of its key benchmarks," a source said.

The minister's intervention followed a second day of crisis in the health service which saw more than 600 patients waiting on trolleys following a serious outbreak of the flu virus over Christmas.

Read more: Row of 'at least 16 ambulances' pictured outside A&E at major hospital - with nowhere to drop off patients

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

The minister received the highest health budget in the history of the State last year with €14.6bn earmarked for spending and also announced a €40m 'winter initiative' package aimed at tackling the spike in hospital admissions during the colder months.

However, record numbers of patients were forced to wait for treatment on trolleys in overcrowded hospital wards.

Meanwhile, doctors and union representatives warned the problem would only get worse if immediate action was not taken by the Government. Mr Harris's Cabinet colleague, Transport Minister Shane Ross, said the health system was "close to chaos", while Independent Alliance Junior Minister John Halligan called for the HSE to be disbanded due to its failure to find a solution to the overcrowding problem despite major investment.

Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly said it was "naive" for Mr Harris to blame the situation on a sudden outbreak of the flu virus.

"The minister's so-called 'perfect storm' is an indictment of his failure to adequately plan, prepare and ensure appropriate resources are in place," Mr Kelly said.

Fianna Fáil's health spokesman Billy Kelleher criticised the minister for "dressing up the problem" with the announcement of the €40m winter initiative last year.

"It shows naivety that he believed there was enough money in the system and enough capacity in the system, and he announced with fanfare that there was going to be a new initiative when we all know the system isn't capable of coping," Mr Kelleher said.

The controversy intensified as footage emerged of more than a dozen ambulances queuing outside University Hospital Limerick as they waited to admit patients.


The recording, taken by Julie Byrne as she visited a friend, showed scores of people on trolleys lining the cramped hospital corridors as medics rushed to keep up with the demand. Ambulance staff reported having to hold arrivals for between one and three hours compared to the 20 minutes or less it normally takes to get a patient space in an emergency unit.

Paul Bell, health division organiser with Siptu, said members of the unions were warning about conditions in more than 15 hospitals, including Letterkenny, Waterford, Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda and St Vincent's in Dublin.

Read more: Hospital crisis is 'only going to worsen' as at least 602 patients remain on trolleys today

Read more: Exclusive: Nurse admits colleagues 'dread' work because they're afraid of making mistakes while juggling too many jobs

"Such delays are then having knock-on effects on other ambulance services including responding to emergency calls and routine patient transfers," he said.

Liam Doran, general secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, said there needed to be a lot less talk and more action done if the Government expected to alleviate this problem.

"There have been many agreements and debates over the past number of years in an effort to reduce the number of people on trolleys, but it is obviously not working.

"There now needs to be real action done. The bottom line is that we need a lot more additional beds, staff and primary care services introduced in our hospital," he said.

The crisis has also resulted in contagious patients being isolated in cubicles with just curtains at Tallaght Emergency Department.

Irish Independent

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