The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD, welcomed the publication of Health in Ireland – Key Trends 2021. This annual report is based on health data from March 2020 – mid-November 2021 and provides key statistics on several areas, including population health, hospital and primary care, employment, expenditure and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare services.
In welcoming the publication of the report, the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said, “Health in Ireland: Key Trends 2021 is a timely reminder of the importance of a robust health information system for measurement, monitoring and reporting of healthcare quality and the outcomes for patients. This is essential to the success of Sláintecare, a priority area of investment and reform by my Department in the coming years.”
The report indicates that hospital activity has been extensively affected by the pandemic, with total discharges (inpatient and day cases) falling over 14% in 2020, and ED attendances falling over 15%. The pandemic response is also very evident in the staffing figures reported. There were over 1,700 more nurses, and almost 900 more doctors, working in the HSE by the end of 2020, compared to the end of 2019. This increase in healthcare workers contributed to an expenditure increase of over €3bn between 2019 and 2020.
Minister Donnelly continued, “the report provides an important opportunity to review the impact to date of the COVID-19 pandemic on the deployment of healthcare resources. This work is essential, particularly in the light of the recent surge in incidence of COVID-19 in the community and the significant pressure placed on frontline healthcare services. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that our health service is resilient, but we continue to face an ongoing challenge to address the need for both COVID and non-COVID care.”
According to the report, the most notable impact of the pandemic on the provision of health services can be seen in the increase in the numbers on waiting lists. In October 2021, there was over 28,000 adults and almost 4,000 children waiting more than 6 months on an inpatient waiting list, an increase of 25% on March 2020, at the start of the pandemic. The Department of Health, the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) are working on a Multi Annual Waiting List Plan to bring waiting lists in line with Sláintecare targets over the coming years. This process will be overseen by a Ministerial Taskforce, chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Health, and includes representatives from the HSE and NTPF.
The report provides the background and context for the Department of Health’s work in creating legislation, policy, and strategies to address critical issues and strategic planning for future demographics and population health.
Minister Donnelly concluded, “in time, Ireland’s changing demographics will emerge as the singular greatest challenge we face when planning our health service into the future. The largest proportional increases in the population in Ireland will continue to be in the category of those aged 85 years and older. The number of people aged 65 and over will grow from one-fifth to over one-third of the working population over the next two decades which will have implications on how we fund our health services.”
“The good news is that people are living longer, and we need to ensure that more of these years, particularly in later life, are spent in good health with care provided in the home or in the community. This report is an important contribution to our ongoing review of healthcare resources, and will support the achievement of this goal.”