An increase in hospital staffing and opening hours are some of the measures being put in place by the health authority locally to deal with the expected increase in demand for services during winter.
Tony Canavan, the CEO of the Saolta University Health Care Group which runs the local public hospitals, said this season is always “extremely challenging” for its hospitals, particularly its emergency departments.
He was speaking in the wake of the publication of the HSE’s National Winter Plan 2019-20 which indicates that €26 million is being provided nationally to help the authority manage this increase in demand in the health service. Of this sum, €6.8m has been allocated to hospital and community services throughout the country to fund specific local initiatives to improve patient care.
The Saolta University Health Care Group, together with representatives from Galway, Mayo, Portiuncula, and Roscommon University Hospitals have been working closely with their colleagues in Community Healthcare West to plan for the expected increase in demand for health services from the public during winter.
Over the coming months, higher rates of respiratory viruses circulate including seasonal influenza, norovirus (the winter vomiting bug ), and healthcare associated infection. A number of hospitals in the Saolta Group have implemented visiting restrictions this month due to outbreaks of norovirus.
It is also a time when hospital emergency departments are under increasing pressure. Additional funding of €647,000 has been provided to Community Healthcare West and the Saolta Group jointly to support improved patient care in hospitals and community services in the west.
Mr Canavan said from a hospital perspective this funding will aim to minimise the length of time patients need to stay in hospital through measures such as improving access to diagnostics, ie, MRI and ultrasound.
“Winter is always an extremely challenging time for our hospitals and in particular our emergency departments. We will be opening some of our services over the weekends in the winter period to assist with patient flow through the hospital. We are also putting a number of additional targeted staff in place to help increase the movement of patients through the ED to facilitate discharge or faster admission.”
Martin Greaney, the acting chief officer of Community Healthcare West, stated his organisation has been working “very hard” over the last number of months, in partnership with its colleagues in the Saolta Hospital Group to improve the care it provides to patients over the winter period.
“We are particularly focused on helping patients avoid hospital admission and supporting the transfer of care of older patients from acute hospitals to the community as quickly as possible. This funding will also allow us provide for additional aids and appliances which will facilitate patients’ earlier discharge from hospital.”
Dr Áine McNamara, a consultant in public health medicine, said it is “extremely important” that over-65s in particular or patients living with a chronic condition such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, or heart conditions are protected against influenza by availing of the flu vaccine.
“I also encourage them to chat with their pharmacist and/or GP to ensure they are taking their medicines correctly and are using any devices properly which will help to keep them well this winter.”