Significant increases in hospital bed capacity and development of a range of integrated community care packages and enhanced home care supports are at the core of the joint UL Hospitals Group (ULHG) and HSE Mid-West Community Healthcare Winter Plan for 2020-21.
The Winter Plan is a range of integrated measures aimed at keeping the residents of the Mid-West well and ensuring the safe provision of care in our hospitals during a period of unprecedented challenge for the health services.
While COVID-19 remains prevalent within the community, the total Winter Plan investment of almost €36m will improve access to appropriate care at home or close to home, with an emphasis on hospital avoidance. As such, the plan is a crucial component of the broad social effort to break the chains of transmission of the highly infectious coronavirus, and minimise its impact on local healthcare services.
At a time when our acute hospitals and community healthcare services face increased pressure due to influenza and other seasonal ailments and trends, the COVID-19 threat has sharpened the focus on the integration of acute hospital and community care.
The Winter Plan works to enhance the capacity of our hospitals and prioritise acute care for the sickest patients, by helping people to find the best, fastest and most appropriate healthcare as close to their homes as possible.
Under the plan, more than €20m is allocated to UL Hospitals Group for investment in staffing for its ongoing expansion of single-room bed capacity, primarily at University Hospital Limerick (UHL).
Since the Autumn, UHL has opened 38 beds in new rapid-build bed blocks constructed under the national COVID-19 emergency plan, and commenced the phased opening of its new 60-bed block, involving the immediate opening of 20 beds, following by 20 more in December and the final 20 in early January 2021.
The plan also allocates €15.7m to HSE Mid-West Community Healthcare for the delivery of enhanced community services, and prioritising the development of the Integrated Care for Older Persons Programme. Other community measures include a high quality integrated care programme for people suffering from chronic disease; and the delivery of Community Healthcare Networks.
The integrated Care for Older Persons Programme in the Mid-West in particular will focus on enabling people living with frailty to remain in their own homes, reducing their dependency on acute services. The programme includes redesigned end-to-end pathways, a specialised multi-disciplinary service for older persons in ambulatory care hubs.
HSE Mid-West Community Healthcare has been allocated additional resources to support Home Care. This will target greater patient flow and will ensure support for those leaving hospital. Additional supports have been provided for the purchase of additional aids and appliances to support people at home, the main objective to facilitate palliative care and hospital discharges.
Colette Cowan, CEO of UL Hospitals Group, said: “Winter is always a very challenging season, and COVID-19 has intensified the challenges facing acute, community and primary healthcare providers. Our joint Winter Plan 2020-21 with the Community Healthcare Organisation is an integrated approach that improves access to healthcare services across the Mid-West, whether the healthcare that people need is in the region’s hospitals or closer to home.”
“The €20m investment in the Plan for UL Hospitals Group has allowed us to secure staffing for the significant number of modern, high quality hospital beds and other facilities that have been completed this year under the national pandemic emergency plan. These beds are a major step forward in addressing our long standing capacity issues, improving the standard of hospital care for patients who need it, especially at a time when sudden surges in COVID-19 pose such a threat to people, specifically to patients and staff in healthcare settings,” she said.
“The Winter Plan also helps us to direct the public to the many care options that are available to them, whether at home, in their local pharmacies, through contact with their family doctors or out-of-hours GP, and other community services. However, it’s important for people to realise that if they need hospital treatment, then our hospitals are the safest places they can be, whether that is in our Injury Units at St John’s, Ennis and Nenagh Hospitals for people with less severe injuries, or the Emergency Department at UHL for the most seriously ill patients,” Ms Cowan added.
Chief Officer of HSE Mid-West Community Healthcare Maria Bridgeman commented: “While working in an environment with the prevalence of COVID-19, our aim is to provide high quality, safe healthcare to meet the demands of the Mid-West this Winter. The focus is on providing this care in a person’s home or as close to home as possible which is welcomed by patients and ensures we play our part in hospital avoidance.”
Ms Bridgeman added: “It is imperative public health guidelines are followed this winter, in particular wash your hands, ensure physical distancing and wear a mask in public places. We are asking the public to get the flu vaccine and please open the right door this winter—do not hesitate in contacting your local GP or pharmacist for advice.”