An Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) review of staff and bed numbers in specialist palliative care in Ireland, released today, has revealed continued and major shortages of hundreds of vital staff and beds.
The study 'Staffing Levels in Specialist Palliative Care in Ireland, 2007. A Baseline Study Review' was carried out to update the first systematic and nationwide review of palliative care services in Ireland which was carried out in 2005 and captured data up to December 2004.
The current baseline study reviewed information on staffing and beds at December 2007 and established what progress was made in the intervening three years. Both studies compared staff and bed figures with the recommendations of the 2001 Report of the National Advisory Committee on Palliative Care (NACPC).
The 2007 baseline review showed that much progress has been made in some areas since 2004. Hospice/Palliative care staff numbers increased by 20% from 570 to 686 between 2004 and 2007 and specialist in-patient beds rose by 17% from 131 to 153 (10 beds in Limerick, six in Blackrock and six in Kildare). Spending on all in-patient (hospice) beds – minus the cost of care staff - had increased by 21% from €19m to €23m.
However, the study confirmed that there are still wide regional variations in the provision of hospice/specialist palliative care in all care environments: hospice/specialist inpatient units; acute hospitals; day care services and community-based multidisciplinary home care services.
The updated study also highlighted that the total staff number reported in this report included posts "in the process of recruitment."
It warned that this may lead to an over-estimate of total staff numbers in palliative care as evidence had emerged during the year that funding for "whole time equivalent" posts in 2006 and 2007 was actually diverted elsewhere and the vital positions including consultants, non-consultant Hospital doctors, nurses physiotherapists and social workers were never filled.
The report found that patient and family access to comprehensive services still largely depended on the region of the country in which the patient lived.
Government spending on care staff and specialist palliative care in-patient unit beds varied from €7.90 per capita in the former South Eastern Health Board area (Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow and South Tipperary) to €35 per capita in the former North-Western Health Board area (Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim).