Seanad Statement by Minister for Health on access to services in our hospitals

Seanad Statement by Leo Varadkar T.D., Minister for Health

**Check against delivery**

A chathaoirligh

I welcome the opportunity to update the House on what is being done to improve access to services in our hospitals.

At the outset I want to acknowledge that too many patients across Ireland are still spending far too long in our Emergency Departments, waiting to be seen, to be admitted, or to be sent home. This causes difficulties and distress for patients and families and makes working conditions more difficult for staff. That is why dealing with this problem is a key objective for the Government.

There is no simple or quick fix solution to the problems which are complicated, with multiple causes. They all need to be addressed and any efforts and actions must be sustained. I convened the Emergency Department Taskforce in 2014 to provide focus and momentum in dealing with the challenges presented by ED overcrowding.

The Government allocated more than €117m in additional funding this year to reduce overcrowding, it has got the Fair Deal waiting time down to between 3 and 4 weeks, thus freeing up hospital beds, it is supporting hospitals to re-open closed beds and to add more beds.

197 hospital beds have opened nationally since October with another 44 due to open in the next two weeks. 750 more nurses are working in the health service than 12 months ago and more registered doctors than ever with a further 338 Non Consultant Hospital Doctors and 78 Consultants appointed this year.

Emergency Care

The INMO ballot is regrettable, particularly when we are starting to see the ED Task Force Plan taking effect. Industrial action won’t get a single patient off a trolley. It will make life harder for other non-nursing staff. The very significant increases in capacity are beginning to be reflected in ED performance. While it is still extremely challenging, the number of people waiting for nine hours or more on a trolley has fallen to, on average, 111 in November. This compares with 127 on average in June, and 173 in February. While there is a long way to go, there are 15% fewer people on trolleys for nine hours or more than on this day last year. While a number of hospitals were overcrowded this morning, the total number on trolleys was 244 , 90 for more than 9 hours. This compares to 289, and 123 over 9 hours. The numbers had fallen to 136 by 2.00pm today

While the INMO and SDU calculate the numbers slightly differently, they agree on the following:

Overcrowding in November 2015 is reduced from November 2014.

The picture has changed considerably from August, when the situation was 40% worse year on year, to a position now, when it is evidently not.

And we are nowhere near the figures of 500 or 600, we saw in January.

We should all be focused on implementing the Task Force plan. It would be very regrettable if a focus on industrial relations and talks at the Workplace Relations Commission distracted from implementing the plan, and caused us to fall backwards.

Delayed Discharges

Delayed discharges are reducing steadily. The latest figure is 558, as compared with a high of 830 last December.

By the end of 2015 we will have provided over 1,200 additional home care packages, 149 additional public nursing home beds, 24 additional private contracted beds and 65 short stay community beds.

When it comes to scheduled care our health services are expanding, and activity is increasing with an average of a quarter of a million outpatient appointments and between 120,000 and 130,000 inpatient or daycase procedures each month.

The public health service has provided over 1.1m inpatient and day case treatments and over 2.4m outpatient appointments up to the end of September this year – an increase of 8% for inpatient and daycase treatments or procedures and 2.3% outpatient appointments compared to the same period in 2014.

Additional funding of €51.4m provided by the Government in 2015 has allowed the HSE to increase capacity across public hospitals and outsource activity where the capacity is not available to meet patient needs. These are real actions, implemented on my directions with funding I secured. The detached commentators are those on the opposition benches who have nothing to offer other than criticism, based often on a poor or limited knowledge of the real issues.

The latest NTPF figures, published on 6th November, show reductions in the total Inpatient / Daycase (IPDC) waiting list, and in the numbers of patients waiting between 15 – 18 months and waiting over 18 months.

Similarly, there are reductions in the total number of people waiting for outpatient appointments, which has fallen below 400,000 for the first time this year. 85% of patients wait less than a year to be seen.

We are now facing into what is likely to be a challenging winter period. It is imperative that we sustain the momentum of the various initiatives underway.

I know that in politics, the opposition will try to exploit problems in the health service for political gain. It was always thus, and thus it will always be.

And I know that when the opposition has no solutions, only to do what the government is already doing, just a bit more or a bit faster, they resort to attacking the Health Minister personally.

But my focus isn’t on politics, it is on finding solutions and implementing then and that’s what I continue to do.