HSE Service Plan 2010 – an impossible ask??

Posted in Blog by saraburke on February 18, 2010

Ten days ago, amidst the media frenzy of George Lee’s resignation, the HSE Service Plan was published. The HSE Service Plan is the HSE’s most important publication of the year as it is the contract between the HSE and the government which details the type and volume of service the HSE will provide in the year ahead within the budget it is allocated by government. Significantly it is the fifth HSE Service Plan and the last one with Brendan Drumm at helm. In short, it details a one billion budget cut, fewer staff and fewer hospital beds. Delivering all its promises in such a constrained environment will be difficult, if not impossible. The Service Plan details how the HSE will more or less provide the same amount of services this year as last with €1 billion less money. The budget for 2010 is €14 billion approx €4 billion going to hospitals and the rest going to everything else. Last year the HSE made €900 million in efficiencies and it plans to continue them again this year and make an additional €100 million in ‘efficiencies’. Notably in 2009, the HSE lived within its budget for first time ever.

However, many of these so called ‘efficiencies’ are really just cuts eg there are significantly fewer about 3,000 fewer staff than 18 months ago. Plus there has been a staff moratorium in place, the ending of any short terms contracts and a big push to curtail agency staff. Closing beds or services can be seen as a cut and there are significantly fewer hospital beds in the system. And the plan outlines the closure of another 1,100 beds. Other areas where these efficiencies are being made are in relation to lower wages resulting from public sector pay cut, as well as renegotiated deals with GPs, pharmacists and drug companies which were long over due. Plus cuts in admin costs and reducing travel, using hotels for meetings, etc.

Such ‘efficiencies’ alongside the greater demand that is evident in HSE’s own stats means the year ahead is going to be very challenging for the the HSE. The greater demand is evident in the following

  • Last year more services were provided across the board than planned
  • There are currently 4% more medical card holders than a year ago – now medical cards at the highest level since the 1980

Yet this year, except with very few exceptions like cancer care and older people, no extra services will be provided yet we have an ageing, growing population and are in the middle of the a baby boom. For example the % of the population aged 0-4 is up 2.8%, while over 65s are also up 2.8%. We know that when you are at both ends of the life cycle is when you have greatest needs from the health system especially older people in need for chronic illness services.  There is a new focus on chronic diseases in this service plan.

There has been a lot of messing around with HSE structures but last year primary and community services were merged with hospitals and new Integrated services established and a ‘Quality and Clinical Care Directorate’ was set up, headed up by Barry White. The rationale  for integrated services is the need for continued patient care across services whether at home or in hospital – part of this is to meet the need of chronic diseases in the community. The quality and clinical care directorate is starting with the most common chronic diseases – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, asthma, stroke, diabetes and heart failure. This new way of managing diseases is also in line with Drumm’s drive to move care from hospitals to the community.

However, this increased dependence on community services is not reflected in the budget as the budget is down all-round except for older people and medical card allocation – even primary care and mental health budgets are down despite the current political emphasis on them. The plan commits to 400 Primary Care Teams in place by the year end (I am going to look in detail at the primary care teams next week).

There is extra money allocated for child protection and 200 extra social workers which even Brendan Drumm has admitted its a real area of neglect. For example, 83% of children in care are without social worker – although 100% are meant to have one and 15% are without a care plan  (In total there are 5,700 children in care in Ireland).

The service plan also reveals that in 2009 – over 150 children admitted to adult mental health units – despite official policy being that no child should be in adult units. So there are still huge areas of neglect but one wonders if there is sufficient budget to adequately address them.

In relation to hospitals its all about more ‘reconfiguration’ and reform, reducing inpatient care and very minor day case increases. The hospital budget is down ½ billion. The plan is dependent on 33,000 fewer emergency admissions. There are 54,000 fewer inpatient admissions planned for 2010 compared to those actually admitted in 2009 – a massive 10% decrease in actual cases (540,993) which is huge and contrary to the spin put out in the press briefings for the HSE NSP which said it was 5.6% – This figure is got from comparing the target not actual no of cases provided. An 10,569 additional day cases in 2010 to those actually provided in 2009 (678,741 to 689,310) which in fact is a 1.5% increase – HSE NSP says its 6.5% but that’s comparing the 2009 and 2010 targets not 2010 target with the actual no of cases provided in 2009.

The plan details the occupancy rates at 90%, yet we know that anything over 85% occupancy is dangerous. IT also reveals that colocation going ahead in 4 hospitals ‘subject to satisfactory banking arrangements’. In the hospital section, there is a focus on the quality and safety of services – which is a good thing – as we need it – but it is at the expense of equity and access. It tells us that 75% of inpatient discharges are public and its meant to be 80%, where as interestingly, 81% of day cases are actually public. Is this to do with more private patients buying a quicker appointment outside of the public hospital system?

But most significantly this plan is dependent on two premises

  1. that union and HSE management cooperation increases yet right now there are very serious IR issues in the health sector, with unions saying they will with draw cooperation and the HSE saying this plan is contingent on increased cooperation
  2. that we have comprehensive primary and community services that quite simply do not exist.

The year ahead is interesting in health, there’ll be a change in the ranks in the health system in 2010  – a new HSE CEO, a new HSE board, new cancer chief, a new minister perhaps…. and a pretty impossible service plan.

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4 Responses

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  1. Annela said, on February 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    I’ve followed your column on Drivetime whenever I can, and it is by far the most enlightening re the HSE / health issues generally that I’ve found anywhere, thank you.
    I work in a community setting providing services to disadvantaged groups in a rural area. We have a community services program providing services to older people, and every time I’ve tried to find out about the Primary Care Strategy; how we can dovetail our little service to best effect, how our clients can derive benefit, etc. I’ve had to give up… so I was relieved to hear your comments on Drivetime today – if you can’t get through that brick wall, what chance have I..!
    I’ll be following your entries about Primary Care here on the blog with great interest.
    Thanks &amp regards

    • saraburke said, on March 1, 2010 at 6:52 am

      Thanks for this. Every area has a Primary Care Transformation Development Officer (TDOs). You should find out who is the TDO in your area and contact them to find out about services and make links between your work and what’s going on locally – thats their role afterall.
      Good luck with it and if you need any other info, try me.
      All the best


  2. Seamus said, on February 26, 2010 at 1:06 am

    I was listening to your health spot on RTE last night on PCTs. You were factually incorrect in what you sais that Public Health Nursing was a universal entitlement. It is only available to those with medical cards. Also you made a very crude calculation of the amount GPs get for GMS work. The figure you mentioned is a gross figure before tax , staff etc. The way it was portrayed it was as if that was their salary. there is a world of difference between Consultants salaries and that of a GP.

    • saraburke said, on March 1, 2010 at 6:40 am

      Seamus. Thanks for your comments – always welcome. The main point I was making was that it is not clear which services are universal and which are not. The HSE say that public health nursing is universal eg all mothers and babies get visited by the public health nurse post birth, plus older people get referred to public health nurses no matter what their income eg ulcer care. However I agree this varies from area to area and is at the discretion of GP and or local health service but the HSE insist to me in a briefing last week that this aspect is universal – I am aware of many people receiving public health nursing services who are not medical card holders.
      I agree with you re GPs income, it was not my intention to imply this was their salary, and I know what I did was very crude but I think it is relevant that 220 GPs get €440 million – while I think GP provide excellent services to patients, I think the €440 million of public money is an under utilised instrument to woo GPs to poorer neighbourhoods and provide more integrated services for all patients. Also I think Irish GPs earn more than their European colleagues even after costs are taken out of the equation?

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