In Case You Missed It: Developments in Health Policy during 2022

by Gazette Reporter
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Over the past 12 months the Department of Health has developed a range of policies and regulations to improve our Health Service.

Below is a list of some developments made over the course of 2022.

January

Minimum unit pricing of alcohol is introduced

The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly TD and the Minister for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan TD welcomed minimum unit pricing on retail alcohol sales coming into force.

Ireland is now one of only a small number of countries in the world to introduce minimum pricing. Scotland was the first in Europe to introduce it in 2018 followed by Wales in 2020.

A minimum unit price of 10c per gram of alcohol is provided for in section 11 of the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018. Minimum unit pricing will set a floor price beneath which alcohol cannot legally be sold and will target products that are cheap relative to their strength. The minimum price is determined by and is directly proportionate to the amount of pure alcohol in the drink.

The establishment of the Public Health Reform Expert Advisory Group

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, and Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan announced the establishment of a Public Health Reform Expert Advisory Group (EAG).

The Expert Group focuses on identifying learnings from the public health components of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ireland with a view towards strengthening health protection generally and future public health pandemic preparedness specifically. The Expert Group will also identify lessons from international best practice.

The Expert Group will then examine the key components of the existing delivery model(s) for public health in Ireland, with a view to recommending an appropriate operating model to develop and oversee the delivery of Public Health in Ireland into the future.

February

Publication of the Sláintecare Progress Report 2021

The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, has published the ‘Sláintecare Implementation Strategy and Action Plan Progress Report 2021’.

The report sets out progress made against the priorities and actions detailed in the Sláintecare Implementation Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023 and focuses on two reform programmes:

·    Reform Programme 1: Improving Safe, Timely Access to Care and Promoting Health & Wellbeing

·    Reform Programme 2: Addressing Health Inequalities — towards Universal Healthcare

March

Death in Service Ex-Gratia Scheme for Healthcare Workers announced

The Minister for Health secured government approval for a scheme to make a tax-free payment of €100,000 to the estate of any healthcare worker who has died having contracted COVID-19 in the course of their work.

Eligibility has been specified broadly – all healthcare workers who were designated ‘essential’ during the first phases of the pandemic will be included.

This includes GPs and others working in primary care, including administrative staff. It also includes disability services staff, private staff in nursing homes and throughout the healthcare system.

April

Roll out of the Pandemic Special Recognition Payment to Frontline Public Sector Healthcare Workers

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly welcomed developments that have been made to implement the government decision to provide a Covid Recognition Payment to eligible public service healthcare and ambulance workers, in recognition of their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cabinet approval to abolish public in-patient charges for children

The Minister for Health received approval to draft the General Scheme of a Bill to provide for the abolition of both overnight and day case public in-patient charges for children under 16.

The proposed Bill will remove the existing acute statutory in-patient charge of €80 per night for all children less than 16 years of age in all public hospitals.  

May

Government approves legal framework for National Maternity Hospital relocation

The Minister for Health welcomed the government’s approval of the legal framework that will underpin the ownership and governance arrangements for the new National Maternity Hospital (NMH) at the St Vincent’s University Hospital campus at Elm Park.  

The legal framework addresses both the ownership and governance of the new hospital will

–          ensure all legally permissible services will be available in the new NMH

–          prevent any influence, religious or otherwise, on the operation of the new hospital

–          safeguard the State’s significant investment in the hospital

 New contract for the continuation and expansion of the Patient Advocacy Service

The Patient Advocacy Service (PAS) provides a free and independent national service to help people accessing healthcare to make or intending to make a formal complaint, regarding the care they have received.

In its first two full years of service (2019-2021), PAS received approximately 1,600 contacts from service users, which resulted in the service providing advocacy support on over 4,000 individual complaints issues. In an external evaluation carried out in 2021, over 85% of respondents indicated that the support they received from PAS was helpful. Link here  

Steering Group established to develop a new Palliative Care Policy for Adults

The group will be chaired by Professor Karen Ryan, a onsultant in palliative care medicine at the Mater Hospital and St. Francis Hospice and Clinical Professor at University College Dublin.

The Steering Group is comprised of 16 members (in addition to the Chair), consisting of health professionals, patient representatives, representatives of voluntary organisations, senior HSE management and senior departmental officials. In addition, Dr. Bridget Johnston, Trinity College Dublin, will be assisting with the drafting and research for the policy 

June

Publication of the Sláintecare Action Plan for 2022

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly published the Sláintecare Action Plan 2022.

Sláintecare works to deliver a safe, health and social care service that meets the needs of our growing population, and attracts and retains the very best healthcare clinicians, managers, and staff. It is about access, affordability and quality – the Right Care, at the Right Place, delivered at the Right Time by the Right Team.

The 2022 Sláintecare Action Plan sets out the ongoing priorities to improve health and social care services. Link here  

Cross government and cross sectoral actions on One Health

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue hosted the Building One Health Action under iNAP2 conference at Farmleigh House.

The event brought together stakeholders from across the One Health sectors – human health, animal, plant health and the environment. This event recognised the work undertaken in Ireland’s National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance 2017-2021 (iNAP1) and acknowledges the publication of Ireland’s second One Health National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance 2021-2025 (iNAP2).  

July

Extra 200 medicine places in Irish medical schools over the next 5 years announced

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and Minister for Health announced an agreement with Irish medical schools to increase the number of places available for EU students by 200 over the next 5 years.

The agreement reached with the medical schools began with an additional 60 EU students in September 2022, climbing to 120 in September 2023, and up to 200 by 2026.

Launch of the National Women and Infants Health Programme’s Annual Report 2021

The National Women and Infants Health Programme was established in the HSE to lead the management, organisation and delivery of maternity, gynaecology and neonatal services, strengthening such services by bringing together work that is currently undertaken across primary, community and acute care. The Programme acts as a single central authority on maternity care and as a reference point and resource for women’s health issues within the HSE, providing for much needed coordinated oversight.

Publication of the Sláintecare Integration Fund End of Programme Report

The report sets out the notable achievements reported by the 123 projects funded through the Sláintecare Integration Fund. The projects tested new ways of working and delivered innovative models of care, bringing care closer to home by putting the patient at the centre of service design and delivery.

The significant impact of the projects on patients and the healthcare system is highlighted throughout the report. It sets out the hospital admissions avoided, Emergency Department (ED) attendances avoided or the reduction in waiting lists.

It also highlights the impact felt by patients and their families where waiting times improved or journey times to receive treatment reduced. 

August

Strategic Advisory Group on Mpox

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, and the Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Frank Feighan announced the establishment of a Strategic Advisory Group on Mpox (monkeypox).

The Group advises the Minister for Health and Government on how best to respond to the Mpox outbreak, enhancing the significant work undertaken by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Health, the HSE, and the HSE’s multidisciplinary Incident Management Team (IMT), which was established when the international alert on Mpox was first raised, and other relevant agencies and organisations, including significant stakeholder and community representation and engagement.

September

Healthy Ireland ‘Healthy Weight’ campaign launched

The Healthy Weight campaign shared practical, expert information about behaviours that can affect weight, in order to support adults to be and feel healthier. These behaviours included good nutrition, managing stress, sleeping well and engaging in regular physical activity.

The campaign was aimed at 25 to 34-year-olds, and was hosted on social media including Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.

Free contraception scheme for women aged 17–25 launched

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly launched the free contraception scheme for women aged 17–25 who reside in Ireland. Funding of €9 million had been allocated to support the scheme in Budget 2022.

Free contraception, for women aged 17–25, became available from GPs, primary care centres and pharmacists who signed up to provide services under the scheme. All consultations with a medical practitioner required to access prescription contraception, the fitting of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARCs) and their removal, and the provision of prescription contraception by pharmacists are now free to 17–25-year-olds.  

Budget 2023 sees investment of €23.4 billion in Ireland’s Health and Social Care Services

Budget 2023 includes:

–       €107m in specific measures to ease cost-of-living pressures

–       430,000 additional people will be eligible for free GP care

–       Free contraception for women aged 17 – 30

–       €20.6mn to abolish the €80 per night public hospital in patient charge

The publication of the First Report on the Healthy Ireland Outcomes Framework

The Outcomes Framework aims to monitor and drive the achievement of Healthy Ireland’s targets and performance indicators.

October

The appointment of Professor Breda Smyth as Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health

The appointment followed an open competition that took place through the Top-Level Appointment Commission (TLAC) process.

Professor Smyth had been interim Chief Medical Officer in the department since July 2022. She has extensive clinical experience and has specialised in public health for the last 16 years and was formerly Professor for Public Health Medicine in NUI Galway and Consultant in Public Health in HSE West.

The launch of the inaugural Menopause Awareness ad campaign

The campaign is a direct response to the demand from Irish women for greater knowledge and understanding of menopause as well as better access to accurate information and supports so that they can proactively manage their experience. It will increase awareness of menopause and the symptoms associated with it and encourage open conversation to reduce the stigma associated with this phase of life.

November

The new National Forensic Mental Health Service is officially opened

The National Forensic Mental Health Service will provide care for 170 patients on campus, as well as community and prison in-reach services. The relocation of the Central Mental Hospital to new state of the art, purpose-built facility, is a major achievement in the development of mental health services. A Forensic Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and an Intensive Care Rehabilitation Unit will also be located on site

The National Forensic Mental Health Service is one of the most modern internationally and is the biggest health capital project outside of the Acute General hospitals system, costing over €200 million.

Publication of the Human Tissue (Transplantation, Post-Mortem, Anatomical Examination and Public Display) Bill

The composite Bill will, for the first time, provide a national legislative framework for operating donation and transplant services in Ireland.

More than half a million bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccines administered

On 21 November, Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly announced that more than 500,000 bivalent vaccines had been administered since these vaccines were introduced on 3 October.

December

The commencement of the Laura Brennan HPV Vaccination Catch-Up Programme

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced the opening of the HSE’s online registration portal for the Laura Brennan HPV (human papilloma virus) Vaccination Catch-Up Programme.

Eligible people can register on www.hpv.ie for an appointment for a free vaccine which will be administered through HSE vaccination clinics and schools. Free HPV vaccines will be offered to all boys and girls in second-level education who were previously eligible to receive the vaccine and who have not yet received it.

Government approval of new Sláintecare Consultant Contract

The government approved a proposal from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly for a new public-only hospital consultant contract.

It followed the conclusion of negotiations on the new contract following extensive talks between the Department of Health (DoH), the Health Service Executive (HSE), the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA).

Government approves next steps in development of new Elective Hospitals

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly received government approval of the next stage of the Enhanced Provision of Elective Care Programme and progression of the development of new Elective Hospitals in Cork and Galway.

The development of elective hospitals will change the way in which day case, scheduled procedures, surgeries, scans and outpatient services can be better arranged across the country, ensuring greater capacity in the future and help to address waiting lists.

The preferred sites, recommended to be brought forward into the planning phase, are at St Stephen’s Hospital, Sarsfield Court in Cork, and Merlin Park in Galway.

€9 million in additional supports for student nurses and midwives

The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly announced his intention to provide significant additional supports for student nurses and midwives. The €9 million package of measures is in line with the recommendations of the McHugh Report.

The government has approved Minister Donnelly’s proposals and the enhanced Travel and Subsistence supports for all eligible student nurses and midwives will be backdated to the start of the current Academic Year, September 2022.

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