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Government must provide realistic alternatives to attending emergency departments

The Government’s failure to adequately plan for a winter surge in hospital admissions has resulted in the current crisis in our emergency departments, according to Social Democrats co-leader and Health spokesperson Róisín Shortall.

“We have known for some months that there would be an upsurge in Covid, flu and RSV cases, so these issues were entirely predictable. Even after the publication of the HSE’s winter plan, there was a sense of unreality about it, with no real prospect of reaching the targets set.

“The current advice is that you should not go to an ED unless it is absolutely essential. However, the reality is that many people have no other option.

“Healthcare is a service that must be provided 24/7. Out-of-hours GP services are operating on a skeleton basis and are not an adequate alternative to an emergency department. Similarly, integrated care hubs and minor injury clinics are not open after 8pm at night.

“The Department of Health must concentrate on providing realistic alternatives, including the employment of GPs in the evenings and throughout the night.

“There is now a very serious crisis within our hospitals and many patients are being failed. This includes the almost one million people on waiting lists, increasing numbers of whom are seeing their procedures postponed.

“As an immediate measure, the HSE needs to requisition additional private hospital beds to reduce the numbers being treated on trolleys. The Government must also redouble its efforts to fill the almost 900 consultant vacancies within our health service.

“At any one time, there are around 600 people in acute hospital beds who are ready to be discharged but there is no homecare available for them. This makes no sense at all and highlights the need to invest in homecare and stepdown beds in local communities.

“Lack of planning and accountability lie at the heart of this current crisis. The situation in our hospitals is dire at the moment and is likely to get worse in the weeks ahead.

“The Minister must act today to provide immediate additional capacity. However, if we are to ensure that we do not have a repeat of this next winter, the Minister needs to get serious about implementing Sláintecare reforms, including expediting meaningful workforce planning and devolving decision-making and accountability to regional health areas.”

January 4, 2023

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