The head of the HSE has admitted reducing waiting lists so patients can access treatment postponed during the pandemic will be a “significant issue” this year.
Paul Reid made his comments at the launch of the HSE's 2021 service plan for which the annual budget is now €20.623bn, an increase of €3.5bn or 21% on last year.
Mr Reid welcomed the ‘significant investment’ by the Government in health services but added: "Elective care and waiting lists have been a very significant issue for us, and will be again this year. The budget supports a start to do this. it is about getting the services back up and running.”
There are now more than 830,000 people on in-patient and out-patient waiting lists as hospitals have had to postpone non-urgent care.
Recruitment is a key part of tackling the lists. The aim is to add 8,500 staff to the 7,500 hired since December 2019. Mr Reid said they already have a net increase of 208 consultants and 1,800 nurses.
He has met Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to discuss salaries for public health doctors as they advertise these crucial roles.
Furthermore, access to diagnostic testing for GPs will be increased meaning patients could get an MRI or other scan in a private or HSE centre without being admitted to hospital. The target is to add 136,000 additional tests this year.
Chief operations officer Anne O’ Connor said: “We are still in the Covid-world, we don’t have all of our services back at the minute.
“After last summer we got to a point of holding our own but we didn’t make any reductions. Our priority is to get back to not growing waiting lists and after that to see how much we can reduce them by.”
An extra 98,000 outpatient assessments and 36,500 inpatient or day-case procedures will be provided through a mix of public and private hospitals.
Non-Covid funding will benefit services including:
- Cancer and cancer screening — €20m
- Mental health — €12m
- Public health — €12m
- Maternity — €12m.
- Disability services — €15m
Bed numbers in hospitals and community services will be increased. Acute hospitals will have 2,500 extra beds by year’s end combining 1,146 from this plan and others from the 2020 Winter Plan, Ms O’ Connor said. There will also be 28 more for mental health.
Covid-19 costs remain high with a budget of €450m set aside for PPE, although Mr Reid noted costs per item are down on last year. They hope to build a sustainable Irish market for some items.
Contract tracing and testing is to receive €445m. So far €200m is set for the vaccination programme, but chief financial officer Stephen Mulvaney said this could increase to as much as €450m.
Recommendations from the Covid-19 Nursing Home Expert Panel report will continue to be implemented, and an additional 5m home support hours will be provided.