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Harris says HSE can't continue in its current form and announces return of six regional healthcare areas

Harris described today’s announcement as the biggest restructuring of the HSE in 15 years .

St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin
St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin
Image: Shutterstock/abd

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has announced a radical restructuring of the delivery of healthcare services with the establishment of six regional health regions.

The proposals are being described as a significant milestone in the delivery of Sláintecare, a plan with cross-party support to overhaul the Irish health service. 

Following Cabinet approval for the move today, Harris aims to establish the six regional healthcare areas across the country, similar to the old health board system. 

Each area will have its own budget based on the population and the needs of its citizens, with the re-introduction of such structures being described as the biggest reform of the HSE in the past 15 years.

Speaking today, Harris said Sláintecare is already very much “alive” but today marks a “significant” step forward with the plan.

“This is a reform that is built to last,” he said, stating that it was built on a consensus. 

He said no one believes the HSE can continue in its current form. Harris said patients don’t believe it, “and I don’t believe it”.

He added that less bureaucracy and fewer layers between the patient and the health service are badly needed. 

“The HSE as it should have been established should never have been established in that way… it was not fit for purpose,” he added.

Currently healthcare provided in the community and hospital care are planned and delivered separately with separate budgets. This will change under the proposed measures.

The minister believes the proposals will improve accountability and governance, provide for clear financial and performance accountability, empower front line staff and allow for the development of power from the HSE to local regions.

The current HSE system will continue as normal while the “collaborative design” of how the regions will work being worked out over the coming months.

Department of Health

The Health Department has said it will not result in more managers in the health service, but will actually streamline the system and avoid duplication of roles.

It adds that the new system should ensure easier access to services for citizens, and that the new scheme will not restrict patients from attending hospitals around the country. 

From today, the department states the first step is to engage with stakeholders, including staff about the new plan, while at the same time a plan to integrate the two systems will get underway.

In terms of how the boundaries of each health region were determined, the department states it followed detailed analysis of patient usage of services across the country. 

In relation to cost, the new system does not have a price tag attached to it yet, though the establishment of the ne regional bodies will “require an organisation change programme which will require investment”. Any future investment will have to be approved by government in the future. 

While this move has been described as being a similar system to the old healthcare boards on the past, the department states that there will be six health regions, while there were 11 health boards. 

“While the regions will have developed responsibility for decision-making, they will operate within a national framework, and will operate under a “one budget, one system” approach. 

Paul Reid, the CEO of the HSE, welcomed the announcement, calling the news “an important step in improving our health service, for everyone living in Ireland”.

We want people to be able to get the health services they need, as close to people’s homes as possible, with the majority of care delivered in the community and not in acute hospitals.

He described the new health regions as “an important step in enabling us to plan and provide better healthcare”.

By aligning our services geographically, it means health service staff can plan hospital and community services together, and this helps provide more integrated care at both regional and local level. The new health regions will have greater autonomy to plan for, manage and deliver services based on the needs of the people they serve.

He said that there will be a “clear roadmap” developed for the move. “While that work is ongoing, our team and services will continue in the current structures, focused on the job at hand – ensuring our health service is working for people, and striving to be better,” concluded Reid.

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