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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C

The Explainer: What is Sláintecare and how does it aim to reform Ireland’s health system?

Unsure what Sláintecare is? Listen in to hear Liam Doran explain to presenter Michelle Hennessy.

THERE IS NO doubt that Ireland’s health system needs work. We know there are long waiting lists for certain appointments and procedures, and that there are people on trolleys who need to get proper beds.

For the past month, The Good Information Project has been looking at Ireland’s healthcare system and one of the featured articles was a look at Sláintecare

Back in 2017, a report called the Sláintecare Report presented a detailed vision of a better future for healthcare in Ireland. It made a series of recommendations – including the elimination of this country’s two-tier healthcare system and the removal of inpatient charges.

Sláintecare began to be implemented after that report, but progress has been slow, not least due to Covid-19 and last year’s cyber attack on the HSE’s system. In addition, a number of members of the advisory council have resigned in the past year. 

To explain more, this week Liam Doran speaks to presenter Michelle Hennessy. Doran is the former general secretary of the INMO and a member of the now disbanded Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council. 

(As well as Sláintecare, The Good Information Project looked at Ireland’s healthcare system, including how Ireland’s GPs are under increasing pressure, what changes readers would like to see in the healthcare system, and talking to healthcare professionals about why they emigrated.)

Listen here for more:

The Explainer / SoundCloud

We asked the Department of Health for a statement on some of Liam Doran’s comments in the podcast. It responded with the following:

The Government’s commitment to Sláintecare reform and to ensuring every patient receives the right care, in the right place, at the right time is absolute and unwavering. €1.235 billion was allocated to Sláintecare initiatives in Budget 2021 enabling and supporting major milestones in the implementation of Sláintecare and funding is continuing at historically levels in Budget 2022.
Implementation continued despite the challenges of the major cyber-attack on our health services and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Substantial key achievements last year and this year to date include approval of the Government’s National Elective Ambulatory Strategy and progressing plans for new elective hospitals in Cork, Galway and Dublin; publication of the Business Case for Regional Health Areas to support the alignment of community and hospital services based on defined population need; and mainstreaming innovation through the Sláintecare Integration Fund.
New governance structures have been put in place, including the new Sláintecare Programme Board, co-chaired by the Secretary-General of the Department of Health and the Chief Executive Officer of the HSE, to ensure that implementation of Sláintecare is fully embedded and owned across the Department of Health and the HSE.

It said work is being finalised on a detailed 2022 Action Plan. Key areas of focus this year will include addressing waiting lists, further developments in shifting care to the community, further investments in enhanced capacity and access to care, implementing digital and eHealth solutions.

“The scale of change required to regionalise our health service is significant,” said the Department. It said that the transition to Regional Health Areas will take place throughout 2023, and it is expected that the areas will be fully operational by Q1 2024.

The Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly “is committed to improving emergency department services across the country”, said the statement. “He has instructed the HSE to perform an analysis of each emergency department with a view to addressing any gaps identified.”

The Government provided additional investment of €1.1bn in Budget 2021 and this level of investment is being maintained in Budget 2022. A further €77 million has been invested in the 2021/22 Winter Plan, which sought to address the causes of long waits in emergency departments. Almost 850 additional non-ICU hospitals beds were provided since January 2020.

The statement went on: “Despite this unprecedented investment and increase in capacity, patients still face unacceptably long waits, including those on trolleys. It is mainly due to increased attendances and admittances especially of those aged over 75. Many are sicker than before, have comorbidities and stay longer.”

This episode was put together by Aoife Barry, Nicky Ryan, and Michelle Hennessy.

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