Health Minister Simon Harris has said Model Two hospitals can do more for local patients and help reduce waiting times in larger facilities.
The Minister was speaking in Bantry Hospital alongside his government colleague Minister Jim Daly. He confirmed funding for planning and design of a €5.4m endoscopy unit and a €5m rehabilitation unit, with construction on both likely to begin in 2020.
Minister Harris said the Slaintecare plan to improve the health system would only work if better use was made of capacity within the Model Two hospitals, of which Bantry is the only remote rural example in the country.
The ED in Bantry was one of those shuttered under the reconfiguration within the health service. Asked if it had improved patient care for people in the area he said: “I don’t know the answer to that. But what I do know the answer to is the policy of certain services needing to be provided on centralised locations is a longstanding policy of successive governments based on clinical advice.”
However, he said this had created capacity within some hospitals such as Bantry and he was “not convinced that is being fully utilised".
"In fact I know there is more we can be doing here with the theatres,” he said.
Minister for a Mental Health Jim Daly said there were now 50 more people working in the hospital than four years ago but both he and Minister Harris conceded there can be issues with recruitment and retention of staff, including consultants.
Mr Harris said that if Slaintecare is to work, “then hospitals like this need to be one busier”.
He said there had been positive reductions in waiting times for cataract services but Mr Daly said any plan to offer such a service in Bantry would require a new theatre, which was not likely in the short to medium term.
Minister Harris also said there were many factors in play when it came to addressing hospital overcrowding, including 2,600 beds across the system and a new GP contract he hopes will be agreed before Christmas.
He also outlined measures to increase bed capacity that have already taken place this year and said more steps will be taken in the coming weeks in areas such as primary care and winter-ready clinics to try and reduce the number of people attending emergency departments. However, he said until all the “building blocks” were in place the health system would still face difficulties.
Minister Harris also said he hoped to progress a strategy on biosimilar drugs in 2019. He admitted it was a priority and could achieve “significant savings” for the HSE but that it had taken longer than he had wished for the strategy to materialise.