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Bernard Gloster, the CEO of the HSE.

TDs praise officials for ensuring HSE wasn't 'falling over' after Bank Holiday weekend

One TD told Bernard Gloster to ‘take a bow’.

IN A RARE turn of events, TDs and Senators praised HSE and department officials for taking “non-rocket science measures” to prevent an “overspill” in the health service after the June Bank Holiday weekend. 

At the Health Committee meeting yesterday morning, representatives also congratulated officials on what Senator Frances Black called the “uplifting progress” that has been reported on Slaintecare reforms and upscaling community healthcare. 

Fine Gael TD Bernard Durkan told HSE CEO Bernard Gloster that he should “take a bow” for implementing “common sense measures” on the June Bank Holiday weekend, by asking frontline staff to volunteer for a seven day roster. 

“I thank everyone involved in that, especially the staff themselves who volunteered”. 

Gloster said that it is a priority for him to see a large portion of the health service workforce move towards a seven day roster – but did clarify that this won’t apply to “all 140,000 people working in the service”. 

“A big portion of the health service is employed to work Monday to Friday and we needto move that to five [shifts] over seven [days] so we don’t just have nursing and on call services over the weekend, we have full service delivery. 

“We saw incontrovertible evidence of how that worked over the June Bank Holiday weekend when I asked people to move voluntarily into that space,” he said. 

Gloster added that the HSE saw “record discharges” on the Saturday and Sunday of the last Bank Holiday weekend. 

“On Tuesday morning the health service wasn’t falling over, but it was still challenged. 

“Five over seven is our target, we are after that,” Gloster added. 

David Cullinane, Sinn Fein’s Health spokesperson was amongst the representatives who offered compliments to officials on the investment and expansion of community healthcare services for older people and people with chronic diseases. 

“I have to commend the Enhanced Community Programme and the huge work going on in that area, it started from scratch and it is very impressive, it is a vital element of taking pressure away from acute hospitals. 

“We are often focused on hospital capacity and trollies, but in my view often the priority should be on community services,” he added. 

Gloster told the committee that there has been significant progress in the areas of primary care and community care. 

“94 out of the 96 Community Healthcare Networks (CHNs) and 47 of 60 Community specialist teams for older people and chronic disease are operational with the balance to be in place by the end of the year,” he said. 

Gloster added that 21 community intervention teams are in place, meaning that national coverage has been secured in this area for the first time. 

These teams work with older people in their homes, and increasing their capacity is aimed at keeping people in their homes, and out of hospitals and nursing homes where possible. 

Another key focus point is helping people with chronic conditions to receive treatment through primary and community care, rather than them having to go to hospital regularly for treatment. 

Roisin Shorthall said the progress is “impressive”, and that early and local care overall results in “better value for money’ for the health service. 

However, TDs also criticised officials for slow progress in a number of areas, including on reviewing and updating eligibility for medical and GP cards. 

Several  committee members said they are regularly contacted by people who have serious and even life-threatening illnesses, who have not qualified for free healthcare because they do not pass means-testing requirements. 

Cullinane questioned Robert Watt, the General Secretary from the Department of Health on when the medical card will be extended to 500,000 additional people, as Minister Stephen Donnelly promised in the last budget. 

Watt said that the decision to extend free GP care to hundreds of thousands more people – in the midst of a GP workforce shortage – was a political decision made without consulting representative groups such as the IMO or the ICGP. 

“Negotiations are dragging on. We don’t want to be involved, we’d prefer to move on to other things, it is very time consuming,” he said. 

Watt added that it is up to politicians to decide whether the measure should be pushed through without reaching a consensus with GP groups, adding that he has a “funny feeling” that Department officials will be “on our own” if a conflict arises as a result of such a move. 

Durkan said that the eligibility for medical cards needs to be reviewed and updated. 

“It is heartless to tell someone with a life-threatening illness that they are not going to be covered,’ he said. 

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