Dáil Éireann - Volume 550 - 21 March, 2002

Written Answers. - Hospital Staffing.

  126. Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress to date in respect of the £25 million winter initiative announced by him in November 2000; the number of additional accident and emergency consultants; the number of additional consultant anaesthetists appointed; the progress on the additional areas detailed in his announcement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9650/02]

  Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): The Deputy will be aware that I announced a €40.63 million investment package, in the winter of 2000-01, aimed at alleviating service pressures and maintaining services to patients, particularly in the acute hospital sector, over the winter period. The investment package was targeted at a number of areas, including the recruitment of an additional 29 accident and emergency consultants and 19 consultant anaesthetists. My Department has been advised by the Eastern Regional Health Authority and by the health boards that to date, 12 accident and emergency consultants and 11 consultant anaesthetists have been appointed.

  When I approved the additional accident and emergency consultant posts, I requested Comhairle na nOspidéal to undertake a review of the structures, operation and staffing of accident and emergency departments. Comhairle has undertaken a lengthy consultative process involving health boards and health professionals and their report, the publication of which I understand is imminent. This report not only deals with the staffing of accident and emergency departments at consultant level but also links reform of accident and emergency departments with the need to look critically at hospital processes and patient flows through the hospitals. The Comhairle report will provide valuable advice on the structures of our emergency services and the necessary linkages which will be required to eliminate the delays in emergency departments which we are all familiar with. I expect the Comhairle report to clear the way for the filling of the outstanding posts.

  Funding was also provided for the contracting of additional private nursing home places by the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards. These places are for patients whose acute phase of treatment has been completed, but who require additional care in an alternative setting. The ERHA and the health [1716] boards contracted more than 700 beds under this initiative in the winter of 2000-01, and this helped to free up acute beds for patients awaiting admission to hospitals. Funding was also allocated to the ERHA and to each health board for the contracting of private nursing home places for the final three months of 2001 and up to end of March 2002.

  The provision of medical appliances and aids is essential in facilitating the discharge of older persons from hospitals and in reducing the level of hospital re-admissions. Additional funding was provided as part of the investment package for the provision of a range of supports including walking aids, wheelchairs and special beds.

  The Deputy will be aware of the Health Strategy – Quality and Fairness – A Health System for you – recently published by this Government. The health strategy outlines a programme of investment and reform of the health services starting immediately and continuing up to 2011. As part of the preparation work for the strategy my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Finance and in consultation with the social partners, conducted a comprehensive review of acute hospital bed capacity needs. On foot of the subsequent report entitled Acute Hospital Bed Capacity – A National Review, which I published in early January, the Government decided, in the context of the strategy, to provide an additional 3,000 beds in acute hospitals over the next ten years. I announced, on 16 January, a €65 million investment package in the current year for the commissioning of 709 of these 3,000 beds in acute hospitals and these will come on stream before the end of this year.