An “ambitious” €600m plan to overcome “unprecedented” challenges across the health service this winter has drawn criticism for its short-termism and critical lack of detail on recruiting 12,500 staff over the next six months.
The plan, designed to bolster health services and keep more people out of hospital this winter as the country continues to grapple with Covid-19, will be contingent on the HSE’s ability to recruit almost 5,000 staff before Christmas and a further 7,500 staff in the new year.
Facing into a winter like no other, the health service will have to operate at reduced capacity of 85% due to Covid-19, while also operating Covid and non-Covid services and catching up on waiting list backlogs of the order of 840,000 patients.
To manage these challenges, the HSE unveiled a winter plan on Thursday that will invest in community services and supports to keep more people out of hospital.
The HSE has committed to:
- Rolling out a €55m flu vaccination programme;
- Providing 4.7 million homecare hours at a cost of €138 million
- Rolling out 20 community assessment hubs
- 47 community specialist teams
- Improved diagnostics access for GPs
- Providing more than 1,100 step-down community beds.
In hospitals, the plan will see 483 new acute hospital beds, 89 step-down beds in regional hospitals, and 17 extra intensive care beds being opened between October and April.
New acute hospital beds will open in Limerick University Hospital (98), Cork University Hospital (34), the Mercy Hospital in Cork, Mater Hospital in Dublin, and at other locations, but a detailed breakdown was not made available.
Given the “significant” and “unprecedented” challenges, HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid appealed to the public to protect themselves and the health service this winter.
“We need the public support," said Mr Reid. "Please protect our health service this winter by continuously protecting yourself and follow the public health advice."
Doubts have been raised, however , over the ability of the HSE to recruit 12,500 staff over the next six months.
By its own admission, the HSE said there were no guarantees that the “ambitious” staffing targets could be met and could not provide a breakdown of staff required to open hundreds of new beds.
The staffing figures came with a “health warning”, HSE Chief Operations Officer, Anne O'Connor, said: “I can't be 100% confident, that's the reality. We have to aim for those levels of staff”.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association said the plan promised investment in services but had “no clear allocation” to invest in staff at the coalface and highlighted the 500 consultant doctor vacancies across the health service, while the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said there was “zero clarity” on recruitment and that extra beds were “meaningless and dangerous” if not properly staffed.
The Irish Medical Organisation said it was “disappointed” with the temporary measures and “temporary beds” to address what will be a “herculean challenge” this winter and called for clarity on staffing and long-term investment to address critical service gaps.
Nursing Homes Ireland warned the HSE against poaching staff from nursing homes this winter.