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€600m HSE winter plan for 'unprecedented challenge'

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Covid testing in the city

Covid testing in the city

Colin Keegan

Covid testing in the city

More home care hours and better access to diagnostics for GPs - as well as measures to keep as many patients as possible out of hospital - will be key measures in the HSE's €600m winter plan.

The service is facing into a winter that could pose the greatest threat to people's health "in living memory", Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has warned.

The plan will see additional beds inside and out of hospital, supporting cancer screening and care, and the hiring of thousands of people to run the testing and tracing system.

There will be widespread use of new community assessment hubs across the country to treat patients in the community and avoid hospital admissions, with a particular focus on treating older people and managing patients with chronic diseases.

Mr Donnelly said the health service will need to adopt a "zero tolerance" approach to overcrowding in any care environment this winter because of the risks of Covid-19.

"Before Covid arrived, we had the longest waiting lists anywhere in Europe and they are now significantly longer because it takes longer to care for people and a lot of the services were shut down for several months," he said.

"The challenges we are facing this winter are unprecedented.

"The combination of winter and what Covid has done to our healthcare system means this winter will probably be the most challenging time in healthcare in living memory."

The plan also promises over 30 Covid-19 test centres, six pop-up fleets, and contact tracing centres.

Commenting on the plan, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association said: "We note today's indications from Government that the promised winter plan is now just days away.

Funding

"The Minister for Health has promised that the plan will include more funding, beds and services. To work, these promises all depend on one fundamental - healthcare professionals.

"As it stands, the deficit in hospital consultants is stark, with 500 permanent posts unfilled and our overall numbers 40pc below the EU average.

"Until we meaningfully recruit to address this deficit, waiting times will continue to grow and patients will not get the level of care they deserve this winter. We await the plan's publication with interest."

Meanwhile, the Asthma Society of Ireland is calling for a subsidisation of all asthma medications. It said 380,000 people in Ireland have asthma and 890,000 will develop the condition in their lifetime.