‘Quite simply not acceptable’ – Taoiseach on waiting times at hospital emergency departments


TAOISEACH Micheál Martin warned it was not acceptable for patients to face lengthy waiting times at over-stretched emergency departments in many of Ireland’s acute hospitals.

r Martin insisted both the Government and Health Service Executive (HSE) were working to address the underlying issues involved from recruitment of key personnel to investing in Ireland’s primary healthcare network and dealing with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Those waiting times are not acceptable, quite simply, and the HSE are aware of that,” Mr Martin warned.

“The HSE is looking at more governance issues across the region in respect of healthcare. There has been a significant pressure on hospitals more generally coming out of the Covid-19 situation – without question.”

“In terms of emergency departments – the resources have been allocated and will continue to be allocated in terms of bed capacity.”

“Also in terms of management of hospitals. One of the issues has been the degree to which Covid-19 has disrupted egress from hospitals because so many nursing homes where we had outbreaks have not been in a position to take people who are leaving the acute phase of their treatment.”

“We have had a significant delay in terms of discharges to nursing homes which has been an unfortunate factor here. Those waiting times are not acceptable.”

“But the HSE are aware of that and we met last week in terms of the health committee of the Cabinet in terms of waiting times and waiting lists and alleviating pressures in the A&E departments.”

Waiting times in some Irish emergency departments have rocketed over recent weeks – despite the fact June-September is traditionally the quiet period for Irish acute hospitals.

Cork’s Mercy University Hospital (MUH) recorded one of the highest average emergency department waiting times nationwide at 21.6 hours – with Cork University Hospital (CUH) second at 19.6 hours.

That was almost twice the national average.

In CUH, elderly patients (those aged over 75 years) have an average emergency department waiting time of 27.5 hours.

The Taoiseach said a key element of the Government’s healthcare reforms was investment in primary healthcare.

Some €240 million is being invested nationwide in community care facilities with Mr Martin officially opening the new €30 million 60-bed Heather House community nursing unit extension in Cork.

The facility is located on the St Mary’s Health Campus which is a key component of the Enhanced Community Care (ECC) programme.

Developed as part of Sláintecare, the ECC programme aims to ensure all HSE primary and community care services work in an integrated way to meet population health needs across Ireland, to reduce dependence on hospital services and provide access to consultant-led specialist services in the community.

A total of 21 community specialist teams for older people and 11 chronic disease community specialist teams have been established, and 21 community intervention teams are now in place with national coverage.

Community diagnostic services have provided over 140,000 scans to patients in 2021, and over 94,000 scans already in 2022.

The transformational programme will include 96 community healthcare networks (CHNs), 30 community specialist teams for older people, 30 community specialist teams for chronic disease and 3,500 additional staff when fully implemented.

Mr Martin said it was a key example of what Ireland was trying to achieve in terms of healthcare reform.

“The St. Mary’s campus has always held a special place in the hearts of Cork people and has played a key role in the city’s healthcare system for generations. It is heartening to see important new services arriving here and that it will be part of the huge transformation of our health service,” he said.

HSE-Cork Kerry Community chief officer, Michael Fitzgerald, said the facilities offered vital and innovative health services.

“Our staff and the community here are rightly proud of the range of health services provided on the St Mary’s campus. The campus is now home to a range of vital and innovative health services which continue to make a real difference in the lives of people who need these services.”

The key aim of the ECC programme is to ease pressure on Ireland’s acute hospitals by providing community access to specialist services, close to home, for people living with respiratory, cardiac, endocrine and chronic diseases.

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