Thursday, 14 October 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
The Minister of State is very welcome. I support the Neurological Alliance of Ireland with regard to the shortage of neurological nurses. I will speak specifically about University Hospital Limerick. The last time a neurological nursing post was advertised and filled was 2019 when a nurse was needed for multiple sclerosis. As we are aware, there are many neurological conditions. A report shows there is a shortage of up to eight nurses in University Hospital Limerick. There are three nurses there at present, along with a number of nurses who assist in the area.
Putting in place neurological specialist nurses helps to reduce waiting lists. It also helps people with their conditions. Sometimes people end up in hospital and taking up a bed. Being seen by a neurological nurse helps to keep people out of hospital and reduce waiting lists. Many specialist nurses are able to deal with these conditions. It also means the patients do not have to see the doctor or professor involved. It would be cost-effective if these positions were filled. As I said, the last time a post was filled was in April 2019. I tabled a Commencement matter on the issue at the time. At that stage, there was a shortage of three nurses. There is now a shortage of eight nurses. I support the national campaign. More than 800,000 people in Ireland have neurological health conditions. I look forward to hearing what the Minister of State has to say today.
I thank Senator Byrne for raising this issue today, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. I will read the statement but I have my own opinions, which I will add at the end if that is okay.
I compliment the Senator on her understanding of the value of the nurses we are speaking about and the impact they have on patients. I know this is an issue close to her heart and one she has raised on previous occasions. I also understand how important it is to the people of the mid-west that such services are available when needed and that they are adequately resourced and staffed. In this regard, the Government and Department of Health are fully committed to improving patient services and having patient-centred care in Limerick and throughout the country. This commitment is reflected in the unprecedented level of funding being targeted at the health service in budget 2022. This funding will help build on the support that has been provided to University Hospital Limerick in the form of additional staffing, in particular in the development of increased bed capacity over recent years.
As is always the case, more can be done. University Limerick Hospitals Group, ULHG, fully recognises the need for additional resources in neurological services. This is why, in 2021, ULHG sought and received approval for two additional consultant neurologist posts to help address the deficit in the service. The recruitment process to fill these posts has commenced and interviews are scheduled to take place on 28 October. It is hoped that both of these posts will be filled from the campaign.
ULHG is committed to developing the service in line with population health and consistent with the model of care outlined by the national clinical programme for neurology. It has advised the Department of Health that there are two specialist nurses working in neurological services at University Hospital Limerick. It is important to note these specialist nurses are supported by a total of nine nursing staff providing services in a range of specialties, including services for Parkinson's disease, which has two clinical nurse specialists and one clinical nurse manager. Epilepsy services at the hospital have one clinical nurse specialist and one staff nurse. Multiple sclerosis services at University Hospital Limerick have one clinical nurse specialist. Stroke services operate with one advanced nurse practitioner, one clinical nurse specialist and one level 2 clinical nurse manager. In addition, the neurological services at ULHG work with the designated stroke and neurology ward in University Hospital Limerick, where all staff are trained to care for neurology patients with a multidisciplinary approach that also incorporates allied health services, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy.I am assured University Limerick Hospitals Group remains committed to the progressive development of neurology services within the group. It has noted that this is a core focus and has committed to improving the service for patients, given its importance.
What I have just read is the contribution prepared on behalf of the Minister. I too am aware of the shortage of an additional eight nurses the Senator mentioned. In Galway, there is a shortage of an additional nine nurses. There is a dearth and deficit, not just in the mid-west or Saolta University Health Care Group but throughout the country. In budget 2022, only 91 nurse specialists were sought for neurology services that support a wide range of patients. Not only do they provide a wide range of patient supports but they are invaluable in preventing emergency department admissions or admissions to beds. Where that specialist care is in place, it can serve a longer-term benefit for the patient by keeping him or her in the community. My ask of the Department of Health and the Minister, on foot of this debate, is that we will make this a priority following budget 2022 and that we will start advertising for posts. While it is fantastic that the consultant posts are being advertised, they will be only as good as the team around them.
I thank the Minister of State for her words on behalf of the Minister but also for her own words. I fully agree with her. While it is wonderful that two nursing posts are being advertised and filled, the Government should make this a priority. I thank her for saying she will take the issue back to the Department and put emphasis on it. If the positions were filled, fewer people would be in beds taking up trolleys. University Hospital Limerick is in the newspapers every day of the week regarding the numbers of people on trolleys and waiting lists. If these posts were filled, it would go a long way towards alleviating that. It would ultimately be value for money and would give relief to the patient, who has to be at the centre of this. Many people with neurological conditions undergo much pain and suffering and that would be somewhat relieved if these positions were filled.
I thank the Minister of State and look forward to working with her on the issue.
The Minister, in his prepared concluding statement, reiterates that the Government, along with the Department of Health, is fully committed to improving services and having patient-centred care in Limerick and throughout the country. This was reflected with the significant funding allocated to improving our health services in budget 2022. University Limerick Hospitals Group is fully cognisant of the need for additional resources within the neurological services. That is why it continues to develop the service and is recruiting two additional consultants in neurology services in 2021. This investment is vital to ensuring the ongoing operational and strategic development of neurological services for the people of Limerick and throughout the mid-west. As I said earlier, this should be a priority and I fully agree with the Senator. When we prioritise the recruitment of neurological nurse specialists, we support people to live a fuller life in their communities. At the same time, I acknowledge the hard work of the staff at University Hospital Limerick. We can prevent repeated admissions.