The failure of politicians and health service managers to place the health and social care professions at the centre of service planning will hamper the implementation of the ‘Sláintecare’ health reform programme, which won cross-party political support last year, according to Fórsa.
The head of the union’s Health & Welfare division Éamonn Donnelly today (Thursday) told a high-level conference that the country’s 18,000 health and social care professionals were neglected in health service planning and delivery, and that 80-90% of final year health profession students were considering emigration as a more attractive option than working in the Irish health service.
The health and social care professions include speech and language therapists, social care workers, social workers, psychologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dietitians, podiatrists, orthoptists, biochemists and audiologists. The Slaintecare programme envisages a major expansion of primary care and social care capacity, with free access to GP and hospital services within five years.
Mr Donnelly called on health minister Simon Harris to immediately create a departmental post of Senior Advisor on Therapy Services. He said this would be an important symbolic step, which would also signal a practical determination to deal with growing waiting lists and other service shortcomings.
Mr Donnelly told the conference, which was also addressed by minister Harris and the chief executives of the HSE, Tusla and the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies, that health and social care professionals should be in leadership positions in the HSE and Department of Health, where they could take an active and visible place in health service policy and operational decision-making.
All of us recognise and champion the principle of multi-disciplinary primary care delivered, as far as possible, in our communities rather than in hospitals. But there is a real concern among the professions that their experience and contribution will be side-lined, to the detriment of patients and clients, in yet another structure that puts all its focus on doctors – be they GPs or consultants – as the managers and epicentre of service delivery.
Donnelly said the primary care aspects of Slaintecare could not be fully implemented unless the health and social care professions were valued and developed.
There is no doubt that improved community services would ease pressure on hospitals and their A&E departments. But we need to hear more from politicians and senior managers on the need to invest in primary care because of its intrinsic, value-for-money, contribution to quality services, health outcomes and quality of life for individuals and their families. Only then will we be able to realise the full potential of these services and the professionals who provide them.
Fórsa listed a range of actions it says are necessary to realise the full potential of the professions in the delivery of Sláintecare and other health service improvements. They include:
- The appointment of more HSCPS to leadership positions including in areas like workforce and service planning, with the immediate creation of a health department position of Senior Advisor on Therapy Services.
- More certainty about how new Community Health Organisations will interact with hospital groups, and what this means for therapy and care service provision.
- Additional investment and recruitment to ease staffing shortages, bring down waiting times, and move towards a seven-day service where there is demand for it.
- Improved career paths, with enough clinical specialists to reflect the development of professional knowledge and the needs of patients and clients.
- A “radical but simple shift” to allow therapists and others to refer clients to other health and social care professionals as necessary, rather than sending them back to a consultant or GP.
- The eradication of the remaining gap between pay scales for so-called ‘new entrants’ and their more experienced colleagues, and a sustained effort to demonstrate to young therapists, social workers and carers that there is a rewarding professional future for them in the Irish health and social care system.
- More management support and advocacy for staff in highly-stressed settings like child protection.
- More consistent and solid employer support for CPD, which would also contribute to workforce planning and improved outcomes for patients and clients.
- Pay equity in section 39 organisations, starting with those that are relatively-well funded from the public purse.
Some 200 people are attending Fórsa’s conference on the ‘future for health and social care professionals in a changing health service’ in Dublin today (Thursday). The event is exploring the future of the professions in a changing health service, with reference to emerging health service structures, demographic changes, and the relationships between health promotion, hospital care and community-based primary care and social services.
Speakers include Minister for Health Simon Harris, Teresa Cody (assistant secretary, Department of Health), Fred McBride (chief executive, Tusla), Tony O’Brien (director general, HSE), Brian O’Donnell (chief executive, National Federation of Voluntary Bodies), and Susanne Rastrick (chief allied health professions’ officer, NHS England).
Those attending the conference include staff and managers in the health and social care professions, as well as senior representatives of health service employers, professional bodies, departmental officials, CORU, HIQA, voluntary sector organisations, patient groups, and other stakeholders.