Calls have been made for the HSE to convene a meeting of the emergency department taskforce for hospitals, which has not met since January, and engage with healthcare staff on a winter plan.
The Irish Patients Association (IPA), which sits on the taskforce for hospital emergency departments, said planning was vital to avoid an even more challenging winter this year as the health service grapples with Covid-19, growing waiting lists, and capacity issues, while the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said the HSE must engage with staffing unions on a winter plan.
The emergency department taskforce was set up in 2015 to address yearly overcrowding issues in acute hospitals.
Last winter more than 500 patients were recorded on hospital trolleys on 73 days up until the end of February this year.
Since 2015 the taskforce has met five-to-six times per year but only met three times last year and has only met once this year, on January 30.
A spokesperson for the HSE, which co-chairs the taskforce, said no date had been set for the next meeting.
“Due to operational pressures arising from the Covid-19 pandemic, with many of the members being directly involved in the system-wide operational response, a further meeting of the ED Taskforce has not yet taken place this year,” a spokesperson said, adding that emergency department presentations fell significantly at the start of the pandemic and emergency departments were not greatly impacted by Covid-19.
Patient advocate Stephen McMahon, who heads up the IPA, said however that a response team similar to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is needed to plan for non-Covid care this winter.
“We continue to call for a similar NPHET type intergovernmental approach to dealing with non-Covid care, however as autumn approaches, we still have not had an Emergency Department Taskforce meeting which should be a very important part of any winter plan,” Mr McMahon told the.
“This winter will be one of the most challenging for both the healthcare system and patients. On every front, serious life-limiting risks exist for patients and such risks must be proactively mitigated against,” he said adding we could not have a "repeat" of last year's "poor performance".
INMO Director of Industrial Relations, Tony Fitzpatrick, said the HSE must urgently engage with staff on a winter plan and provide additional capacity and staff to cope with the expected challenges ahead.