Niamh Griffin: Sláintecare plan provides hope for an end to anarchic waiting lists

The plan is backed with some €3.69bn and aims to radically overhaul many of the issues in the health service
Niamh Griffin: Sláintecare plan provides hope for an end to anarchic waiting lists

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly arrives at Reeves Day Surgery, Tallaght, to launch the Sáintecare Implementation Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

An end to a waiting list system best described as anarchic is coming closer with the launch of an implementation plan for Sláintecare.

After many years of being told Sláintecare will change the health system, we now have a practical approach claiming to improve access and boost healthy living. It is backed with €3.69bn over three years – some targets stretch past that.

Tackling spiralling waiting lists has to be done. In April, 628,756 people were waiting for a first appointment with a consultant.

It is believed planners looked with horror at the treadmill of going on a waiting list to get an MRI, another list to see a consultant about the results, another list to get treatment, and probably one more for follow-up care.

Timeframe

The timeframe for fully ending this by merging lists to regularly hit targets – like a maximum 12-week wait for outpatient appointments – is understood to be four to five years.

To do this, the HSE needs more staff in hospitals and community care; up to 7,000 new people are expected on the ground this year. It is not yet clear where they will come from.

It is understood the move to merge hospital groups and HSE organisations into six regional areas will make recruitment easier.

And doctors' unions will this week see the Sláintecare consultant contract – newly recruited doctors will only work in the public system.

During the pandemic, hospitals regularly canceled elective surgeries, as happens every flu season on a smaller scale.

Addressing this started on Wednesday, when submissions for sites to build elective centres were called for in Cork, Galway and Dublin. And primary care centre numbers will increase to 133.

It is hoped by separating hip operations or cataract surgery from hospitals with emergency departments, delays will end. And, in fact, this worked during the pandemic when private hospitals were paid to carry out electives.

It is understood there are concerns the health infrastructure in Cork is on its knees. This centre will initially focus on daycare procedures, but ultimately the chosen site will be large enough for other developments.

Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central Colm Burke welcomed the centre but said it should offer overnight admissions on a seven-day basis, not five. 

Other concerns were raised by charity Mental Health Reform about relatively low funding for mental health.

Digitalised system

But there is hope for people tired of bulging patient paper files. When the Covid-19 vaccination rollout started, Danish medics pulled patient contacts and health risks from a digitalised system.

But in Ireland, hospitals and GPs held webinars to share information and made thousands of phone calls to identify patients. 

Under this plan, we should have digital shared care records by 2023. It is believed this will be a password-protected portal with direct patient access. They can share it with their healthcare providers when necessary. 

The first step is ironically happening through the vaccination programme. Everyone who gets vaccinated also gets an individual health identifier which will attach to these digital records.

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