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‘It is not even remotely acceptable,’ Health Minister Stephen Donnelly says about some emergency department waiting times

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly visited the Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Integrated Care Hub for older people based at St. Finbarr’s Health Campus in Cork City. Pic: Brian Lougheed

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly visited the Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Integrated Care Hub for older people based at St. Finbarr’s Health Campus in Cork City. Pic: Brian Lougheed

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly visited the Cork Kerry Community Healthcare Integrated Care Hub for older people based at St. Finbarr’s Health Campus in Cork City. Pic: Brian Lougheed

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly acknowledged that waiting times in some Irish emergency departments are simply not acceptable with elderly patients facing delays of 14 hours or more for admission.

Mr Donnelly - speaking in Cork as he visited a special St Finbarr's elderly care hub - said everything possible was being done to address the matter in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Studies have shown some elderly patients are waiting an average of 14 hours for hospital admission from emergency departments - with some Cork and Limerick hospitals suffering even longer waiting times of 20 to 30 hours.

"It is not even remotely acceptable," Mr Donnelly said.

Concern has mounted given the delays are being experienced in what is traditionally the quieter period for Irish emergency departments – with December to March the period where admissions delays are longest.

Mr Donnelly admitted such delays for vulnerable, elderly patients were "unacceptable."

In one case, a patient in their 80s waited almost 30 hours to be assessed at one overcrowded Cork emergency department.

"It is clear that what we have seen in terms of people waiting, particularly the type of cases you are talking about right now, are completely, completely unacceptable and we have to act and do tangible real things to get people flowing through the hospital system."

Mr Donnelly said he has had urgent conversations with healthcare officials in Cork, Limerick, Galway, Sligo and other centres about what can be done to ease the congestion in the system.

"One of the things we are doing is I have established a taskforce with €350m to provide immediate care for people - so whether we can get care from the HSE, where we can fund overtime, where we can fund weekend sessions, where we can get care in the private sector -we are doing that."

"Units like this (St Finbarr's) Enhanced Community Care (ECC hub) are going to help a lot."

The ECC concept aims to reduce pressure on acute hospitals and the dependence on emergency departments.

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As part of its St Finbarr's unit, the ECC hub aims to help people aged over 65 years to stay safe and well in their own homes for as long as possible.

ECC hubs will offer both physical clinics as well as outreach medical teams to older persons over 65 years of age with complex needs and frailty.

The service sees approximately 2,500 patients each year with 200 new patients taken on each month.

Urgent referrals are seen in the same week and referrals to the rapid access clinic are seen within two weeks.

The outreach team provides a 'ward at home' service and sees 45 patients a month, all in their own homes.

Mr Donnelly said it will prove a vital part of Ireland's developed healthcare system for the elderly.

"ECC is a huge investment in community healthcare services in the HSE, aiming to provide more services closer to people’s homes, and provide extra services for older people, or people who live with long-term health conditions," he said.

"So far, 79 community healthcare networks and 27 community specialist teams of the new ECC programme have already been established nationally with over 2,000 staff already recruited or at an advanced stage of employment."

"A further 1,700 (staff recruitments) are planned during 2022."

"The work that has been undertaken by the integrated care programmes for older people and chronic disease over recent years has shown that we can achieve much improved outcomes, particularly for older people who are frail, and those with chronic disease."

"The new model of care allows the specialist multidisciplinary team to engage and interact with services at community healthcare network level, supporting people in their diagnosis and on-going care."

"With the support of the Department of Health, these models are now being implemented at scale by the HSE, with the establishment and full rollout of 30 community specialist teams for older people and 30 specialist teams for chronic disease."


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