Wicklow found lacking in eight out of ten healthcare services
New ESRI study highlights that the supply of health care services in the county is below the national average, reports Eimear Dodd
A new report has highlighted the relative lack of healthcare services in County Wicklow compared to the availability of these services nationwide.
A geographic profile carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) looked at the distribution across the country of ten primary, community and long-term healthcare services.
It found that eight out of the ten healthcare services in Wicklow were 10 per cent lower than the national average. Services in Counties Meath, Kildare and Wexford were also found to be below the national average.
While the data used for the analysis is from 2014, the report's authors suggest that inequalities in the supply of services may still persist. They point to 'a historical failure to invest in health information and data systems' suggesting this has 'severely hindered the ability to draw a comprehensive picture of health and social care in Ireland.'
They also warn that a lack of reforms could 'impede the progress' towards the Government's planned healthcare reforms including Slaintecare.
The report titled Geographic Profile of Healthcare Needs and Non-Acute Healthcare Supply in Ireland examined the supply of ten healthcare services in 2014. They found there were considerable variations in supply across the country though the analysis did not look at the adequacy of these services.
The report found that 36.7 per cent of the population of County Wicklow had a medical card in 2014, compared to a national average of 38.2 per cent. The percentage of the county's residents with a GP visit card in 2014 was also lower than the national average of 3.3 per cent at 3 per cent.
The report identified that there were 5.6 GPs per 10,000 in Wicklow in 2014 which was almost equal to the national average of 5.7 GPs per 10,000. However, a decline in the supply of GPs in the county was noted over a ten-year period dropping from 6.1 GPs per 10,000 in 2004 to 5.6 GPs per 10,000 in 2014. The analysis estimated that there 2,868 GPs practicing nationwide in 2014 as there is no national register of GPs practising. The study found there were a total 40 GP practices and 86 GPs practising in the county in that year.
Wicklow was found to be 10.7 per cent below the national average in terms of community nurses with 63.3 working in the county. The numbers of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, social workers, chiropodists and podiatrists, counsellors and psychologists were all found to be below the national average. In the case of physiotherapists, another 15.4 would have to employed on a full-time basis within the county to reach the national level.
Wicklow was also below the national average for the number of home help hours on offer in 2014. A total of 357 home care packages were provided that year, giving an average of 20.3 hours for the county's population over 65 years of age. In comparison, the national average was 24.1 hours.
The only area where Wicklow scored above the national average was in the availability of long-term residential care centres and long-term residential care beds. The county had 57 beds per 1,000 population aged 65 or older compared with the national average of 49.8 beds per 1,000 population.
Overall, the findings noted 'significant inequalities' between counties in the available supply of non-acute healthcare services in relation to the needs for care. The report's authors suggest that to reduce the substantial variations between the counties, 'considerable increases in the supply of non-acute care would be required in many counties.'
The research highlighted that there is no national datasets of the number, location and catchment population of non-acute healthcare services. Instead, researchers had to draw on a range of data sources from the Central Statistics Office, the Health Service Executive, the Department of Health and other health regulatory bodies.
A number of local TDS reacted to the report.
Sinn Féin TD John Brady said the report 'lays bare the inequalities in non-acute and primary care services county by county.
'The report itself underlines the inequalities in the supply of health services and social care in Wicklow and highlights the need for targeted investment in our county's primary and community care
'The report is very clear that healthcare supply has not been allocated according to population need and this has led to inequalities across the primary care and other non-acute services they examined across the State, especially in Wicklow.
'This report underlines the need for targeted investment in primary and community care to address the inequalities we have in healthcare supply and also to have any hope in implementing Sláintecare.'
Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, has said 'inequality cannot be tolerated in healthcare. Through Slaintecare we are attempting to move towards universal healthcare which means that everyone, regardless of whether they have money or not, can access high standard healthcare. We need to see the same access in community healthcare.
'We know that central to this inequality is the fact that we have no data on population need. In fact, a system of resource allocation based on population need has not been in place since 2014 so it's very reasonable to assume that this inequality will continue long into the future until we allocate on the basis of need.
'Community and social healthcare facilitate discharges from the acute hospital sector and prevents admissions in the first place. The ad hoc allocation of resources is undoubtedly heaping pressure on the acute network.
'It shouldn't be the case that a child in Wicklow has to wait over a year for an initial appointment for speech therapy while a child on the other side of the country gets more immediate access.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Health Simon Harris said: 'The Government has taken a number of steps in recent months to address the issues identified by the ESRI. The €210 million investment in general practice will see additional funding for GPs in both rural areas and areas of urban deprivation to help address inequality of access. This has been accepted by 90 per cent of GPs in an IMO consultation ballot.
'The announcement of six new health regions will also assist. Each region will have their own budget, based on its population and their local needs.'