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 Header Item Hospital Waiting Lists (Continued)
 Header Item Hospital Consultant Recruitment
 Header Item Hospital Services

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 911 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Billy Kelleher: Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher] We should be imaginative and creative to change the rostering programme in order to make radiography and other diagnostic services available seven days per week. We should utilise the huge capital investment that has gone into this in recent years to ensure we have greater capacity in diagnostics in the public health system. It is a key area.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris The Deputy is correct. I recently met some of the representatives of radiographers and I am aware that the latter are willing to do more within the public health service. We are exploring with the HSE the additional tasks they want to take on, which will lessen the burden on other parts of our health service. Where health service professionals put their hands up and say they are willing to do more and play a role, it is very important that the HSE responds positively.

We must ensure that diagnostics are available within the community where it is possible to do so in order that we might keep people out of acute hospitals. Sometimes we clap ourselves on the back too much for building a primary care centre when the real question we must ask is what is in the primary care centre. It cannot just be a fancy GP centre that has diagnostic equipment. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to look at how we can incentivise health care professionals to provide diagnostic equipment within the community so that primary care centres can provide real primary care.

Hospital Consultant Recruitment

 7. Deputy Eugene Murphy Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy asked the Minister for Health Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris the number of consultants employed at Portiuncula Hospital, County Galway, and the number of vacant consultant positions. [13759/16]

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris There are 28 consultants employed at Portiuncula University Hospital, while three posts are vacant. This hospital, like many other smaller hospitals, has difficulty filling certain posts and relies on locums to fill posts pending permanent appointments. Of the 28 consultants in post, five are currently employed as locums.

The hospital is focused on filling posts on a permanent basis, reducing reliance on locums and recruiting additional consultants. Within medicine, three locum posts are due to be filled on a permanent basis this year, two in September and one in October. It is also intended to re-advertise one consultant in geriatric medicine post and one consultant in gastroenterology post.

In obstetrics, the consultant working as a locum at present is due to take up a permanent post on 7 July, strengthening the team to five permanent consultants.

Within radiology, two consultant radiologist posts are in clearance stage, one is to commence later this year and the second in 2017.

Reflecting the improvements in train, the hospital recently secured the permanent appointment of a consultant anaesthetist. This post-holder has key responsibility for the intensive care unit and is a joint appointment between Portiuncula and Galway University Hospital. There is also an additional consultant due to commence on the 23 January 2017.

The Saolta Hospital Group recognises the importance of Portiuncula to the delivery of care within the group and this is reflected in the recent and planned improvements in consultant recruitment at the hospital. I assure the Deputy that this process will continue.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I have congratulated most of the Minister's team on their appointments but I wish him well. Gan dabht, is jab an-deacair é d'aon duine bheith ina Aire Sláinte ag an am seo ach tá mé cinnte go mbeidh an tAire ina Aire Sláinte maith le linn an Rialtais seo. The very best of luck.

I welcome the reply to the question but I ask the Minister to ensure that all the appointments to which he referred will happen in the coming months. Portiuncula University Hospital is a very important part of the health system in the Roscommon-Galway constituency. Not only does it look after patients from Roscommon-Galway, it takes them from Clare, Offaly and other adjoining counties. Ever since the closure of the accident and emergency department at Roscommon University Hospital, it is even more important that all the services available at Portiuncula are retained and upgraded. I ask the Minister to make every effort to ensure that the appointments to which he referred will be made in the coming months because they are essential for the future of the hospital.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I thank the Deputy and I do assure him of that. The process of increasing both the number of consultants working in the hospital and the number working on a permanent basis, rather than on a locum basis, is the intention of the HSE and the Saolta hospital group. Three locum posts will convert to permanent posts later this year, two in September and one in October. In addition, we will advertise the consultant post in geriatric medicine and I invite the Deputy to keep in touch with me and the HSE on the matter. It is my intention that this continues to develop and that the number of consultants required, not just in this instance but throughout the country, are installed.

Deputy Eugene Murphy: Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy Since my election as a Dáil Deputy for the Roscommon-Galway constituency, I have met the community in Ballinasloe on three occasions, including business people and community people in the town and staff in the hospital. They are very proud of the hospital at Portiuncula and want to talk it up. They want to see new developments. It is really important for Roscommon University Hospital that they happen there as well. There is talk of a 50-bed unit at Portiuncula University Hospital going to planning and that is extremely important for the future of the hospital.

I welcome the Minister's statement and I hope the reinvestment that is taking place in the health service will continue because it is essential for the health care of the people in that region.

Hospital Services

 8. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Health Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris why, as of 29 April 2016, only 234 of 301 new hospital beds were added to support the acute hospital system; the progress being made to date to increase capacity; the funding allocated and used to date for this purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13697/16]

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I am very conscious of the impact that long wait times in emergency departments can have on patients and their families, as well as on front-line staff. Last Monday I attended my first meeting of the emergency department, ED, task force implementation group, which is co-chaired by the director general of the HSE and Mr. Liam Doran of the INMO and which is providing focus and momentum in dealing with the challenges presented by emergency department overcrowding. As Minister for Health, I intend to personally attend the monthly meetings in order to keep momentum going.

In June 2015, additional funding of €18 million was made available to the HSE under the winter additional capacity initiative. The initiative identified 301 additional winter capacity beds that could be opened. In some hospitals, beds have proved more challenging to open than envisaged, owing to difficulties in staff recruitment. However, to date, 236 of these 301 new beds have opened. In addition, 116 closed beds have re-opened and a further 14 beds have been opened in Sligo. In total, 366 new or reopened beds have been made available.

This extra capacity has enabled similar emergency department performance to the equivalent period in 2015, despite an average increase of nearly 6% in attendances so far this year.

Furthermore, figures for May show total numbers of patients on trolleys are approximately 18% lower than in May 2015, with numbers waiting over nine hours approximately 24% lower than in May 2015. I do not say this is acceptable but I want to put it into context.

The demand for acute hospital services continues to increase in line with a growing and ageing population. The overall population growth year on year is in the order of 1%, whereas growth in the over-65 age group is of the order of 3% to 4% per year. In addition, in 2014 adults aged 65 years and over accounted for nearly 13% of our population but used 53% of total hospital inpatient care, which demonstrates the demographic pressures on our health service.

Reviews of bed capacity and medical assessment unit hours of service are needed and are key commitments in the programme for a partnership Government, as well as for me, as Minister for Health, so that I can look at ways to address pressures on our emergency departments. I am planning a winter initiative, not just for this year but next year too and this is under way.

Deputy Louise O'Reilly: Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly Some €18 million was spent last year on the winter initiative. Can the Minister advise if the same amount is being set aside for this year, or will it be more? We are 65 beds short of the target of 301 which was promised. Where did those 65 beds go?

The Minister said it is the intention to undertake a bed capacity review and that is very welcome. When will that start and finish and who will conduct it? Does the Minister have any plans or money set aside to act on the recommendations that will be made? We do not need too much time to know that there are not enough beds in the system. The bed capacity review should be a fairly quick exercise and it would be interesting to know whether the Minister has identified somebody who can carry it out.

Deputy Simon Harris: Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris I am not in a position to reveal the figure for the winter initiative today but I will be shortly. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform have made clear in this House that we will present our health Estimate, as well as all other Estimates for departmental Votes, in the next fortnight.

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