HSE expects to recruit only half the extra staff it has funding for this year

Service plan commits to the delivery of 5,500 whole-time equivalent staff ‘at a minimum’

The Health Service Executive expects to recruit only half the extra staff for which it has funding this year, due to recruitment difficulties.

Budget 2022 provides for an expansion of over 10,000 in health service numbers, including 3,000 in acute hospitals, 7,000 in the community and 700 in other areas.

However, the HSE service plan for this year, published on Tuesday, commits to the delivery of 5,500 whole-time equivalent staff “at a minimum”.

HSE recruitment targets have been criticised by Department of Health officials in private meetings, which were subsequently leaked.

Speaking at the launch of the service plan, HSE chief executive Paul Reid attributed the difficulty in meeting recruitment targets to the "challenging labour market environment".

Under the plan, reported in The Irish Times last week, almost no patient will have to wait more than one year for a hospital procedure by the end of 2022.

The maximum time an outpatient will have to wait to be assessed by a hospital consultant will be cut to 18 months by the end of the year, under another target in the plan.

The plan envisages an additional 297 beds by the end of the year, and 19 additional critical care beds.

An additional 210,000 inpatient and daycare procedures, and 20,000 colonoscopies, will be carried out in 2022 compared with last year’s service plan.

There is also provision for an additional 1.8 million home support hours, an additional 40,000 mammograms and more than 15,000 additional cervical screens.

The rollout of 96 community healthcare networks, 30 community specialist teams for older people and 30 teams for people living with chronic disease, will be completed, with the aim of reducing hospital attendances.

Mental health teams

Three new mental health teams will be put in place, and two further Camhs (child and adolescent mental health service) hubs. The national forensic mental health service will open in Portrane; the new building is ready but officials say industrial relations issues are still being sorted out.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly hailed the largest allocation for the health service: "This plan will improve outcomes for people who need to engage with our public health service, continue to see capacity increased, build on the reforms and improve timely access.

"The Plan supports health objectives set out in the Programme for Government, bringing us closer to Universal Healthcare, sees a huge focus on the promotion of Women's Health, and in the post-Covid-19 environment we also focus on supporting positive Mental Health and Wellbeing amongst others."

The plan, which sets out the detail of how the HSE plans to spend the €21 billion health budget this year, warns of “exceptional levels of uncertainty” around financial planning due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as “unprecedented risks” for staff.

The number of older people on the Fair Deal scheme will remain static, and almost 100,000 fewer people will have medical cards by the end of the year, compared to last year’s plan.

A national service will be established to support people who are post-Covid and those who have Long Covid, while free contraception will be provided for women aged 17 to 25 years.

The plan commits to restoring the full operation of all cancer services to address “unprecedented” backlogs and delays in diagnosis arising from the pandemic and the cyberattack on the HSE’s IT systems last year. Demand for services is projected to grow by 10-12 per cent this year.