Government proposes radical reform of how hospital wards are staffed

The Government is set to radically reform the way hospital wards are staffed and structured after a new pilot project found simple changes can reduce deaths, improve patient outcomes, and save the State millions of euro a year.

Health Minister Simon Harris was given sign-off to extend the plan, which is backed by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the HSE, to hospitals nationwide at the latest cabinet meeting yesterday.

In recent months, a number of wards at Beaumont Hospital, St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda have been involved in a new pilot staffing project examining how nurses are deployed.

The project, overseen by the Department of Health and external researchers, specifically examined the skill-mix in hospital wards, the ratio of nurses to patients, the use of agency workers who are not used to the ward, and the activities of non-nursing staff.

The project’s findings are not due to be published until Monday, at which point they will be discussed in further detail with other hospitals nationwide.

However, due to the fact the pilot project shows changes to how and when nurses are deployed in wards can reduce deaths, improve patient outcomes and save the State millions of euro as less agency workers will be needed, cabinet yesterday agreed in principle to extend the plan nationwide in the coming months.

“What it has found is that there is a fairly uneven distribution of nurses in hospitals, some wards required more nurses or a different mix of skills, while it also found there needs to be a shifting of reliance on agency staff.

“The next stage is to develop a national implementation development plan across hospitals as part of the Sláintecare implementation plan,” a government spokesperson said last night.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health is separately due to publish a new report on its website later today explaining how the €55m set aside to cope with surging hospital inpatient waiting lists will be spent.

The Irish Examiner understands the new report — which is supported by both the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund — will make it far clearer how many patients can be treated for “high volume” issues such as cataracts, knee and hip injuries.

This will happen through a new rule that any money provided to the NTPF for waiting lists will lead to the NTPF responding by saying how many patients exactly can be treated for the amount of money available.

The approach is different to the current system which has regularly been criticised amid claims money is handed over to the HSE before disappearing into a financial “black hole”.

Separately, Mr Harris yesterday brought a new bill to cabinet which will give effect to plans previously announced in December for €11m to be ring-fenced to pay for free GP cards to be given to carers.

The move is expected to benefit tens of thousands of people across the country who save the State millions of euro every year by looking after their direct family, relatives and friends at home.

Yesterday’s cabinet meeting also saw Agriculture Minister Michael Creed update ministers on the fodder crisis affecting rural Ireland, saying he has now increased the support package from €2m to €2.8m.

Rural and Community Development Minister Michael Ring also put forward plans to increase access to libraries around the country as part of a new national strategy which could see late book return fines scrapped to encourage library access.

A number of officials have also been appointed to the project management board of the divisive Project Ireland 2040 initiative.

However, while not naming the officials, a government spokesperson said no members of the Strategic Communications Unit are involved.



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