Stephen Donnelly: Waiting times for elderly patients are 'not even remotely acceptable'

Stephen Donnelly: Waiting times for elderly patients are 'not even remotely acceptable'

Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, at the Cork Kerry Community Healthcare integrated care hub for older people at St Finbarr’s Health Campus in Cork City, with 82-year-old service user Sally Clarke, from Wilton, Cork. Picture: Brian Lougheed

Stephen Donnelly, the health minister, has pledged a hospital-by-hospital review to resolve problems that have led to elderly people waiting up to 29 hours in emergency departments (EDs).

Mr Donnelly said such waiting times, more than twice the national average in some hospitals, are just not acceptable.

“It’s not even remotely acceptable — it is never acceptable that anyone would be waiting those times,” he said.

“I’ve met with the HSE and said I want a plan, obviously looking at next winter but it has to work right into the future, saying we need to go hospital by hospital, emergency department by emergency department, identify what the gaps are because the problems in the Mercy [University Hospital in Cork] are different to the problems in CUH [Cork University Hospital] and they are different to the problems in Limerick.

We need to understand exactly what it is — in one place it’s workforce, in another place it’s beds, in another place it’s late discharge.

“And we need to be absolutely clear — politically the Government is very clear, the department is clear and the HSE is clear — that what we have seen in terms of people waiting is completely, completely unacceptable and we have to act and do tangible, real things to get people flowing through the hospital system,” he said. 

Mr Donnelly was speaking during a visit to the new Cork Kerry Community Healthcare integrated care hub, at St Finbarr’s health campus, which is part of a national programme for older people that aims to slash by 20% the number of over-75s being admitted to EDs.

It has physical clinics and an outreach team that provides a "ward at home" service for patients in their own homes to help older people avoid hospital and stay well at home for longer.

It is one of two such hubs in the city, which are part of the €240m enhanced community care (ECC) programme being rolled out nationally.

Paddy Corcoran, 89, from Tramore Rd, injured his left knee after a fall on December 5 while buying a newspaper for his 96-year-old brother. He later required surgery. He said the hub organised a nurse to call to his home three days a week in recent months, reducing his stay in hospital.

“It’s fantastic. Dr Tim here is very good and the nurses too. I’m getting great service altogether and they came to the house and put up a second bannister on the stairs, and bars on the wall on the steps outside my front door. It’s fantastic,” he said.

Sally Clarke, from Wilton, Cork with her daughter Ingrid. Ms Clarke says the new integrated care hub 'couldn't have been better'.
Sally Clarke, from Wilton, Cork with her daughter Ingrid. Ms Clarke says the new integrated care hub 'couldn't have been better'.

Sally Clarke, 82, from Wilton, almost died after contracting Covid-19 in October. Her daughter Ingrid said she spent a month in CUH but was readmitted on Christmas morning with an infection. Following her discharge a month later, she was referred to the hub.

Ingrid said: “It was an absolutely brilliant service — physios, occupational therapists, nurses — they all came to the house. At one stage, mum was on death’s door. She came home on a walking frame, then graduated to a stick and now she’s almost back to herself again. They have gotten her back on her feet again.” 

Sally Clarke said: “It has been fantastic. Every person I dealt with was so friendly. It was all about making me better and feel happier — they couldn’t have been better.” 

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