HSE sets out plan to resume health services

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The Health Service Executive has said it will resume health services affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in three phases, between now and December.

Cancer services are to be fully restored by the end of this year, assuming there is no significant disruption to plans.

Reduced capacity for cancer screening programmes will continue during March to June, with 90% capacity restored during July to September for BreastCheck, CervicalCheck, BowelScreen and Diabetic Retina Screening.

Outpatient clinic levels are due to be fully restored between July and September.

Planned operations are to be fully restored to target levels between October and December.

The details are set out in the HSE’s ‘A Safe Return to the Health Services’ plan.

It said the potential demand for Covid-19 ICU beds will be less than 50 from 5 April, but in a worse case scenario, that could rise to a need for 100-150 ICU beds.

It said that the demand for general acute beds for Covid-19 cases is likely to be 100-270. But in a worse case, that could rise to 700-850 beds.

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The Chief Operations officer of the HSE, meanwhile, has said that cancer services were severely impacted by the most recent surge in Covid-19 virus cases and waiting lists have grown. 

Anne O’Connor told RTÉ’s News at One that while time-dependent surgeries went ahead and those who had already started treatment continued with it, less urgent cancer cases were put off. 

She said that the new HSE plan to scale-up services between now and December aims to allow cancer patients to be seen in a more timely way in the coming months.

She said that only time will tell the impact of closures on delayed diagnosis, but she said that many cancer services continued with rapid access clinics open to allow patients to be referred via their GP. 


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Ms O’Connor said the knock-on effect of reduced services in other areas, including endoscopy services, could also have an impact on cancer diagnoses. 

She said that efforts to scale-up planned elective activity would require Covid-19 cases numbers in hospitals to be lower than they currently are, with 350 people in hospital and 76 in critical care units today. 

The hope is that things will remain positive, she said, and that operations will return between October and December, but that procedures will continue to be cancelled if space and staff are needed to treat more Covid-19 patients. 

She said that outpatient appointments will resume in July and August and many of these patients will be seen virtual. 

Ms O’Connor said this will allow only those who must attend in person going to hospitals and that new technologies and new ways of working have been developed which will allow clinical teams to identify and work with patients remotely. 

She said it is a welcome advance that many outpatients can be seen at home, in the community and in primary care settings. 

Ms O’Connor said that absenteeism in the health services has improved, with under 900 staff now absent due to Covid-19, but she said others require a much-needed rest over the summer months. 

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