Use demographic data to plan health services, says Harris

More funding for hospital beds needed to prevent patients on trolleys in January

Ireland needs to use demographic information for the provision of long-term health strategies in the same as the country plans for education, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris accepted he had to deal with day to day issues in the health service but said he believed it was important to take a more long-term view to tackle recurring problems.

“If you look at what we have done with education over the last few decades, we now know from a demographic point of view there will be this number of school children next year requiring a school place and we provide an adequate number of teachers, school places and school buildings.”

“I don’t honestly believe over the last decade or two, successive governments have done that same level of detailed demographic analysis - this year in Ireland there will be 34,000 more people - there will be 3,000 more people over the age of 85 and 20,000 to30,000 more people over the age of 65.”


“We know as we get older we are more likely to rely on our health service and we also know we are more likely to have multiple health issues. Yet that analysis has not been mapped out in terms of the delivery of health services.

Mr Harris said Ireland was able to invest in the health service again, with a record budget being provided for sector this year.

“I think there is an onus on me not just to deal with the issues of the day but to try and put in place the building blocks to break what I would describe as the vicious annual cycle of dysfunctionality with the health service. Year in and year out we see this and I am determined to break it.”

Mr Harris said the number of people on trolleys had dropped by over 100 from a peak last week to just over 500 patient said it remained unacceptably high.

The Minister said he expected the number of people on trolleys to fall further due to a response plan from the HSE.

The HSE has announced seven extraordinary measures above and beyond the winter initiative, including opening additional transitional care beds, opening up of more acute beds and working with our nursing homes.

“We do have a serious outbreak of flu ..... We have seen a significant increase in the flu rate this week even compared to last week - I think it is now up around 95 per 100,000 ... it is very important if you haven’t been vaccinated, particularly if you are an older person, to avail of that vaccination.”

Mr Harris agreed greater capacity was needed in Irish hospitals but said investment was needed in primary care and community solutions to free up capacity in hospitals.

“Every single year, for probably the last 20 or 30 years, the Minister for Health has stood in a spot similar to this in January and talked about high trolley numbers and what they are going to do to alleviate the situation in the month of January.”

“I am doing that too. But what I am doing as well are the measures we need to take to break the cycle and to make sure it is not an annual event.

“That includes things like bed capacity, we need more capacity - we have not built a new public hospital in this country since 1998.

“It means we need more recruitment. We have beds closed in Irish hospitals today due to lack of medical staff and lack of nurses. It means we also need a new GP contract, we need to do more things in the community rather than in a public hospital.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times