Limerick situation suggests new A&E department will not solve Galway hospital woes

As the University Hospital Limerick continue to suffer severe overcrowding despite opening it’s new Emergency Department, Social Democrats Galway representative Niall Ó Tuathail claims Galway needs to invest in community care teams if it is to solve the pressure on Galway hospital.
Mr Ó Tuathail, who works as an advisor to the NHS on health reform, said: “While a new Emergency Department in Galway is needed and will help improve terrible conditions for patients and staff, it’s not a silver bullet for overcrowding and I am disappointed in politicians who pretend it is one, including Minister Harris who wrote to UHL management in frustration. The only real solution to overcrowding is a combination of reducing the number of people going to A&E, increasing staffing and beds to treat more patients and getting people home quickly and safely when they don’t need to be in hospital.”
The Social Democrats candidate for Galway recommends that the HSE launch targeted community care teams for our elderly residents, people with complex long-term conditions, and people with severe mental health issues. He suggests that “the international evidence shows that giving preventative and quick response services to these groups of people can improve their health, keep their independence and dignity and avoid them going into hospital. If they do have to go into hospital, the community team plans from day one for what services are needed when they can leave. This helps them to leave hospital more quickly, avoiding them losing independence and picking up hospital infections. Not only does this save money and take pressure off the hospital far more cheaply than building new beds, this will stop people from dying unnecessarily young.”

‘The Future of Healthcare’: October 5 at Harbour Hotel

Róisín Shortall T.D., co-leader of the Social Democrats, and Niall Ó Tuathail, Social Democrats Galway representative and health reform advisor to the NHS, will address a public meeting on the future of healthcare on Thursday week in the Harbour Hotel.
At the meeting, Deputy Shortall, who initiated and chaired the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, will outline Sláintecare, the cross-party plan for the health service. Niall Ó Tuathail will talk about what Sláintecare might mean for Galway and what can be learned from his work in other countries. There will also be a panel of local healthcare staff and patients to give their perspective on what needs to be done as well as opportunities for the audience to ask questions.
Commenting ahead of the meeting, Niall Ó Tuathail said:
“Despite having some of the most talented and hardworking frontline staff in the world, and one of the biggest budgets per person in the world for health, Ireland has struggled to do what most developed countries have been able to do – provide a decent public health service where everyone is taken care of safely, quickly, and affordably. To discuss these issues, I would like to warmly invite Galwegians who are interested in healthcare to this event. “
Deputy Róisín Shortall added:
“Health reform is a key priority for the Social Democrats. For the first time in the history of the state, we have a cross-party plan for our health system called Sláintecare. It would move a lot of our healthcare outside of hospitals and into communities, and make care more affordable.”
Stating that Ireland’s health service can not keep going in the same direction, Ó Tuathail concluded:
“Our population is growing and ageing, we are struggling to hire enough staff to fill hospital rotas and GP clinics even when the money is there, and we do not have enough services outside of hospital and closer to home. Most of my work is for the NHS in England and Scotland addressing these issues and I want to be part of the solution in Ireland too. I’ll be giving an overview of some of my international health reform work, what lessons we could learn from that, and how we can translate political change into change in the health service.”
The meeting starts at 7.30pm in The Harbour Hotel on Thursday 5th October.
For more information, contact Susan McGrady on [email protected] or 0858207288

Future of Healthcare Committee – what it means for Galway

Galway’s public health services are on the medical equivalent of a life support machine. The A&E department of University Hospital Galway is so over-run that it is asking people not to come this week. People are tragically ending up in the Corrib due to lack of access to mental health services. Those with dementia are picking up infectious diseases while stuck in hospital beds that cost the HSE over 10,000 euro per month, preventable with a modest investment in their homes and home care packages. On a daily basis, patients and their families travel from all over the West of Ireland to an overloaded Galway hospital to receive basic healthcare that doesn’t need to be administered in a hospital environment. To add insult to injury, up-front charges for GPs and A&E, as well as the cost of health insurance are spiraling upwards, adding to already strained family budgets.

Unfortunately, this outcome was predictable from the early 1950s when Ireland took a different path to a post-war Britain that launched the National Health Service (NHS). While the modern NHS has its problems, it is still an excellent publicly-run health system that is financed by income taxes rather than charging people for care when they need it. It is a little known fact that the Irish government of the day almost took the same approach, but it was fought by the Department of Finance who said we couldn’t afford it, and by the Church which feared losing control of the hospitals. It turns out that we couldn’t afford not to build an Irish NHS we are now paying the cost of that decision with an expensive and unfair health service that has cost taxpayers unnecessary billions and, more importantly, unnecessarily cost our people healthy years on this earth with their loved ones.

A Chinese proverb goes that that the best time to plant a tree was decades ago and the second best time is today.

This week, the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, chaired by my Social Democrats colleague Róisín Shortall TD, published Sláintecare – the first coherent, long term plan in the history of the state that has cross-political support. The ambitious ten-year plan would see us get the majority of our healthcare (such as diabetes, COPD, dialysis appointments as well as minor injuries, blood tests and scans) from our GPs, small community clinics and primary care centres. All evidence shows that this will improve people’s health and will be more convenient, as services will be delivered to all closer to home. The plan would also ensure that at least 10% of Ireland’s healthcare budget will be invested in mental health, an area with huge need for expanded services.

What could this mean in practice for people in Galway? It won’t solve our issues overnight, but as the proposed upfront investment hits the ground, waiting lists would begin getting shorter. New GP clinics and primary care centres with a broad range of services would be set up all over the county. Your local health centre would see increases in staffing levels and opening hours. Primary and community care teams would be strengthened – that would improve your access to public health nurses, counselors, eye doctors, speech and language therapists, dentists and home care assistants. In the NHS, where I work on health reform, we are even safely providing minor surgery and chemotherapy in the community.

Galway hospital would get much needed investment and refurbishment, and this plan could end the debate on Merlin Park. The question isn’t whether a brand new hospital, if fully staffed, would benefit Galway. The answer to that is obviously yes. The real question is what is the best way to spend limited money to improve the health of Galwegians, and the direction from Sláintecare – and also the direction we are taking in the NHS – would suggest that strengthening primary care is the best thing to do for people’s health and the best way to take pressure off hospitals.

Speaking of money, how would this impact your pocket? There is no question that we need to make an upfront investment to make this work, and the next few budgets would need to prioritise healthcare over tax cuts, something politicians will have to discuss honestly with the electorate. The direct costs of health – admission charges, GP charges, prescription charges – would go down, and many families should feel comfortable giving up their health insurance as services improve.

The measures outlined in the report will eventually save money. For every euro we invest in primary care, we save multiples of that due to avoided hospital admissions and the fact that the same treatment is being given by less expensive staff in less expensive buildings. If we don’t make this investment and continue with an expensive hospital based system, costs will balloon out of control, people will die unnecessarily, and the differences between care provided to rich and poor will increase.

A report by itself changes nothing and the focus must move quickly to implementation. The committee see an implementation office being set up to make the plan a reality. I’ve been involved in similar implementation offices in the NHS and they do work very well if they are well-led, ruthless about priorities and make decisions based on evidence and data. This is a once in a generation opportunity to correct the mistake that was made in the 50s not to build a great public health service in Ireland. Let’s move forward and make it happen!

Niall Ó Tuathail was a recent general election candidate for the Social Democrats. He works with the English NHS on health reform.

First published in the Galway Advertiser