The Government has unveiled its €20 billion National Service Plan for the HSE, the largest ever, as it seeks to battle record waiting lists and ongoing Covid complications while delivering Sláintecare reforms.
Chief among the aims of the National Service Plan will be getting to grips with Ireland’s outsized hospital waiting lists, with it set out within the plan that the hoped-for maximum time a patient will have to wait for an appointment with a hospital consultant will be reduced to 18 months by the end of 2022, and that 98 per cent of adults and children will be waiting less than 12 months for a planned procedure.
In the weeks following the publication of the National Service Plan in early March 2022, figures for public hospital waiting lists were published for the month of February, showing an increase of over 1,000 people and a total of 626,658 people outpatients waiting. In total, 896,600 people were found to be on some form of public hospital waiting list.
As part of this drive, the plan promises an extra 210,000 inpatient and daycare procedures for its duration, along with 297 additional acute beds and an extra 20 critical care beds. Plans to recruit extra staff, totalling between 5,500 and 10,000, are also afoot. In September 2021, there were 130,636 whole-time equivalent staff employed by the HSE; the plan states that the minimum target for year-end 2022 is 137,414. This recruitment is not without its challenges, as HSE CEO Paul Reid states in the plan: “Attracting additional staff to provide care and progress key reforms is a significant challenge. Very often we find ourselves hiring from one part of the organisation in order to staff another part.”
With these reforms happening under the umbrella of Sláintecare and its goal of delivering higher quality care in improved timescales, the plan also contains details of how the Sláintecare goal of delivering healthcare within local communities will be progressed in 2022. During the year, the HSE and Department of Health will design and develop the specifications of regional health areas, which include the completion of a “comprehensive implementation plan”. The aim of these regional health areas is “to create an organisational structure that aligns corporate and clinical governance at regional level, within a strong national context, and enables better co-ordination and improved performance across health and social care services”.
Speaking upon the publication of the plan, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD said that the plan “supports health objectives set out in the Programme for Government, bringing us closer to universal healthcare” and stated: “This National Service Plan for 2022 will improve outcomes for people who need to engage with our public health service, continue to see capacity increased, build on the reforms and improve timely access.”