Staff shortages and emergency department overcrowding are the top challenges facing the health services, according to a recently published survey by Ipsos MRBI for the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association. Just over one fifth, (23 per cent) of 1,000 adults surveyed said a lack of staff, including doctors and nurses, was the biggest challenge, followed by 22 per cent who cited overcrowding and the trolley crisis. Waiting times for procedures were seen as the major problem facing the health system by 17 per cent of respondents.
The survey results coincided with the publication of end-of-year hospital trolley figures by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO). Last year was the worst on record for overcrowding in the public hospitals, nurses said, with more than 108,200 patients who required admission having to wait on trolleys in emergency departments or on wards. The level of overcrowding recorded last year was a 9 per cent increase on 2017.
Overcrowding on the first working days after Christmas was significantly down on 2017, with between 350 and 370 patients waiting for admission to hospital. However, statistics released by the INMO yesterday showed that that figure had risen since by 150.
Will the Health Service Executive's 2019 National Service Plan (NSP) address public concerns about the health system? Not according to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, which says the plan fails to provide the resources to address the system's overwhelming capacity deficits and manpower shortages.
With just €4.5 million – a 0.5 per cent increase – allocated for new developments in primary care this year, the NSP fails to support the widely agreed need to enhance primary care infrastructure to relieve pressure on acute services. Indeed, with an overall percentage drop in this year’s HSE budget, primary care’s minuscule share of health spend will continue.Based on such a narrow focus, the NSP for 2019 is unlikely to bring about the major changes needed to allay concern about the challenges facing the health service.