The HSE West stressed this week that the reorganisation of public hospitals into hospital groups will result in greater efficiency, accountability and improved outcomes for patients. The groups come as a transition to independent hospital trusts.
The Minister for Health’s decision will mean that the west/north west group will consist of University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park Hospital, Sligo Regional, Letterkenny General, Mayo General, Portiuncula and Roscommon County Hospital. NUI Galway will be the academic partner for this group.
The rationale behind the formation of the groups was the large number and range of acute hospitals operating in relative isolation, the duplication and fragmentation of resources, and the difficulty in recruiting and retaining key staff. The inequitable distribution of workloads and resources was another reason for setting them up, a meeting of the HSE West’s regional health forum was told this week.
Bill Maher, the chief executive of the Galway and Roscommon University Hospitals Group, said the new hospital groups have been described by the health minister as the “most fundamental reform of the Irish acute hospital system in decades”. It is recommended there should be six such groups in Ireland.
He outlined the group has more autonomy to manage resources, both funding and staffing, in a way that is appropriate to the needs of patients.
“We have already started developing our strategic plan, working to national standards of quality and care. This will outline how we will play to the strengths of each of the hospitals in the group so that they will develop services that meet the needs of their patients and of which their locality will be proud.
“In addition we have plans in place for a steering group to progress integration and prepare for our transition to a trust. It is our intention to become the first hospital trust in the country.”
The HSE West has already had a head start with part of the group already up and running for more than a year now.
“We have developed effective corporate and clinical governance structures along with quality and safety systems for patient care. This will make it easier to integrate all the hospitals into a common governance arrangement and put structures in place to bring the seven hospitals to the next level of performance and accountability.”
Mr Maher outlined that the Minister had approved the appointment of five non-executive directors to the group.
‘The board has met four times this year including meetings in Roscommon and Portiuncula. Our next board meeting will take place in Galway on 18 June and will be held in public. This is the first of two public board meetings planned for this year which will provide real local accountability to the public we serve.”
However, Cllr Padraig Conneely, the chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum, expressed concern about the geographical spread of the new hospital group. He feared there would be a return to the “bad, old days of the HSE” with a “very huge geographical spread and fragmented accountability”. Sligo and Donegal were a long way away from a management perspective, he felt.
He said Mr Maher was doing a “good job” but wondered if he would be able to control such a large group.
He feared the new group with its seven hospitals would be “awkward” and “hard to control”.
A number of other forum members from outside Galway voiced similar concerns saying the hospitals within Mr Maher’s remit had now gone from four to seven.
Mayo Fine Gael councillor Seamus Weir said Galway to Letterkenny was a long way and he feared the hospitals in between would not just be “squeezed” but “pulled apart”.
Letterkenny Fianna Fail councillor Ciaran Brogan feared Donegal would become the “poor relation”.
Bill Maher said he was confident the HSE will build on the success of the local hospital group. He said he recognised the geographical aspect of it and while it did concern him he said the HSE had a “very good way” of doing things and with support these new bodies will be successful.