Eilísh Hardiman, Chief Executive of Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) speaks with eolas Magazine about her organisation’s realisation of a major milestone on the journey towards modernising children’s healthcare in the State.
It has been a challenging year for CHI. In fact, ‘challenging’ is an understatement. Alongside the busiest emergency department attendances in the history of its hospitals, CHI’s priority has been to recover from both the Covid-19 pandemic and the May 2021 ransomware attack on the HSE.
Simultaneously, remarking on “long waiting lists and significant numbers of people waiting”, the Chief Executive identifies access to care as the single greatest operational risk facing her organisation. With the delivery of the New Children’s Hospital moved out until 2024, therefore, improving access to care in existing facilities has become a necessity.
In this context, in 2021, CHI successfully met several objectives on its journey towards better health outcomes for children and young people throughout Ireland. Most decisively, Hardiman outlines: “We have opened a new paediatric outpatient and emergency care unit at CHI at Tallaght. That is a very important milestone in the plan for the new children’s hospital. The rationale is to keep paediatric services local and convenient.”
Primarily, the model for paediatric care in Ireland is defined by keeping care in the home where possible or as close to the home as clinically appropriate and Children’s Health Ireland’s catchment area incorporates the entirety of Dublin city and county, alongside Meath, part of Louth, Kildare, and Wicklow.
“As such, we have to ensure that we have a paediatric outpatient and urgent care centre on both the northside CHI at Connolly and the southside CHI at Tallaght. This ensures that families can be supported locally without traveling to attend the New Children’s Hospital,” Hardiman explains.
“International experience indicates that if a hospital is established first, people will gravitate to it. However, if outpatient and emergency care units – with the same staff and standards, as well as easier access – are embedded in communities first, people will stay there and feel that they do not have to go the principle hospital. That is our chief objective.”
Breaking from a tradition whereby referrals are often made directly to specialists, this investment seeks to consolidate a cohort of general paediatricians who can become a first point of contact, liaising with GPs, community services, and families, to manage most paediatric conditions and assess what must go to specialist services.
“By enabling healthcare professionals such as consultants and doctors, as well as nurse specialists, psychologists, physiotherapists, and phlebotomists, to establish multidisciplinary teams, the new facility at CHI at Tallaght will ensure more efficient, child-centred, family focused care, which treats children at the earliest opportunity,” the Chief Executive asserts.
Indeed, a similar facility in CHI at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown opened in July 2019 and its services contributed to a 65 per cent reduction in waiting lists for general paediatric services.
“One-quarter of the citizens of Ireland are aged under 18 and my purpose as Chief Executive of Children’s Health Ireland is to advocate hard on behalf of children’s services. Our objective is to have healthier children and young people, ultimately ensuring a healthier, wealthier, and happier nation,” Hardiman concludes.