HSE 'tsar' to lead bid to avoid winter chaos

A winter plan ‘tsar’ will oversee the health service’s bid to avoid chaos in hospitals in the coming months.

The idea is among measures being introduced by the HSE following the papal visit to Ireland.

A single HSE official was tasked with co-ordinating the health service’s response to the Pope’s visit in August, which included extended opening hours for primary care centres and minor injury clinics to ease pressure on hospitals.

This will be replicated in the delayed €30m winter plan along with other ‘enhanced measures’ which have been designed to avoid what has become an annual crisis in the health system.

Nine hospitals identified as “sites of concern” will be targeted. These are hospitals which have already had issues with patients on trolleys this year and over the past two winters.

They include Tallaght Hospital, the Mater and St Vincent’s hospitals in Dublin and the University Hospitals in Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. Other aspects of the plan include ‘winter-ready’ clinics being set up in communities.

The plan lasts until March 31 with what is described as an ‘enhanced focus period’ for four weeks from December 17 to January 13. It is understood that the person co-ordinating the plan has been identified but won’t be announced until later this week.

“Introducing the winter plan this late is astounding given the warnings from politicians and doctors and nurses since August,” said Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly .

He pointed to figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation showing the number of patients waiting on hospital trolleys this year has hit a new high, surpassing 100,000. The HSE puts the figure at 91,000. Mr Donnelly said the situation was “disgraceful” and “avoidable”.

Health Minister Simon Harris’ spokesperson said planning for winter had been taking place since June. She said parts of the plan, including €16m for home-care packages to help avoid hospital admissions, were already being put in place.

The Government had committed to introducing 2,600 additional beds, with 79 of these to be delivered by early 2019, she said, adding that Mr Harris was committed to reversing “years of bed closures” by Fianna Fail.

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