HSE Winter Plan risks seeing the health service slide back into pre-pandemic stagnation
- Delay in publishing plan does not bode well for difficult weeks and months ahead;
- Shortfalls in beds and staffing already causing delays and cancellations for the 904,000 people on hospital waiting lists;
- Prediction of severe flu season on top of continued Covid-19 pressures and ED overcrowding could result in ‘most challenging winter in years’;
- Strategic, empathetic leadership needed to deliver multi-annual plans for the health service, with devolved, local decision making and implementation at its core.
Commenting on the publication of the HSE Winter Plan 2021-22 on Monday 15 November 2021, Professor Alan Irvine, President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said:
“The provision of an additional €77 million announced in the Winter Plan 2021-2022 is indeed welcome, but we fear it will not adequately address the serious challenges we are now facing.
“This is the second winter of Covid-19 and is unlikely to be the last. Without the strategic, empathetic leadership needed to bring forward multi-annual plans that are delivered through devolved, local decision making and implementation, we risk slipping back into pre-pandemic stagnation and not learning from the challenges faced during the pandemic.
“The continued trend of sluggish, centralised and politically driven decisions is losing precious time for those of us on the ground and for our patients.
“The very fact that the Winter Plan has been published in mid-November, whilst the service is already bearing the brunt of increased pressures and winter illnesses, does not invoke confidence or trust in our health service management.
“In fact, it only shortens the time period that we have to put in place effective measures to address the winter surge in hospital admissions resulting from the circulation of Covid-19, influenza and other respiratory viruses at the same time. The equally slow pace of decision and action on Covid-19 booster jabs is also playing out in hospitals, with many healthcare staff at risk of being or currently out with the virus.
“The Winter Plan cannot now deliver on the beds promised in the time given. The numbers are evident as we now see a gap of around 350 desperately needed acute hospital beds – and we are already feeling the effects of that shortfall. Incredibly, after 20 months of the pandemic and many additional billions of euro allocated to the HSE budget, we have fewer ICU beds on a population basis than in 2009.*
“Nor does this Winter Plan provide clear investment or actions to recruit the professionals required to fill beds with patients and treat them with the timely care they need.
“Additional Consultants need to be appointed, on terms to be agreed with their representative bodies, together with more facilities and better infrastructure to take Ireland’s acute public hospitals and patients through the difficult months – and years – ahead.
“In an already overstretched public hospital service, these shortfalls will make addressing the continuing increases in demand for care in our public hospitals even more challenging, at a time when our staff and patients are exhausted by stress, delays and Covid-19.”
*There were 289 ICU beds in public hospitals in 2009 or 6.5 beds per 100,000 population. This has reduced to 6 ICU beds per 100,000 population in 2021 (300 adult ICU beds are currently open and staffed).