Simon Harris: Cut delayed hospital discharges to tackle overcrowding

Health Minister Simon Harris is “convinced” the way to tackle hospital overcrowding is to reduce the number of delayed discharges.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Joint Committee on Health, the minister said there are 629 patients whose medical care had been completed this week. The patients cannot leave the hospital because other necessary care, support or accommodation has not been provided.

Mr Harris said the number of delayed discharges is still far too high: “It has been higher; it has been lower. It needs to be much lower.”

Latest HSE figures show that there were 608 delayed discharges in July, compared to 630 the previous month.

“I am convinced that the key to making progress in our emergency departments lies with delayed discharges,” the minister said.

Older people, or their families, should be free to choose a nursing home but he believes they could be somewhere better, other than an acute hospital bed.

Additional funding of €40m has been provided under the Winter Initiative to reduce ED overcrowding this winter. Key measures include an extra 950 home care packages and an additional 58 transitional care bed approvals every week.

However, the minister said they should not ignore the “elephant in the room” — the “silo mentality’ on releasing available funding within the health service.

He had resisted saying too much because he knew the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Health Care is looking at funding structures and hopes there will be cross-party agreement on a 10-year plan.

“I personally believe there is significant merit in looking at how our hospital groups and our community health organisations operate,” he said.

“If people are protecting budgets — the hospital protecting their budget and the community protecting their budget and the person in the hospital who needs to get you out to home today does not actually control the budget for the home care, I personally think that is a problem.”

Senator Colette Kelleher said she is shocked that 662 women in Cork were waiting for gynaecological surgery and a further 490 with gynaecological problems were waiting to be seen as an out-patient — the highest number in the country.

Mr Harris promised to look at the gynaecological waiting lists and said he would get back to her.

The minister also told Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell the way patients were treated when they experienced a tragedy, or adverse event was “quite shameful.”

Ms O’Connell said it is “absolutely barbaric” that a woman who suffered a tragedy or adverse event in a maternity hospital has to be examined by two separate sets of medical experts appointed on behalf of her legal team and that of the State. It is degrading and demeaning, she said.

Mr Harris said the system that is “too adversarial” would be reformed so women feel supported at a very vulnerable time.

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