New Productivity and Savings Taskforce

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The first meeting of the Department of Health’s Productivity and Savings Taskforce was held on January 17.

The Productivity & Savings Taskforce  aims to realise savings and maximise productivity across the health services. 

Foremost amongst its areas interest are:

  • The use of new technology to provide hospitals with access to leading-edge data management and visualisation tools to improve health outputs.
  • New ways of working – streamlining operational processes, to drive productivity across the health sector.
  • Procurement 
  • The future cost of health care, which will consider amongst other things, the impact of demographics and emerging technologies on the health care services of the future.

The Taskforce will complement ongoing projects in areas such as, the reduction in the health services’ medicines budget, the reduction in both agency and management consultancy costs and the accelerated roll-out of the HSE’s Integrated Financial Management System.

As set out in the Terms of Reference, the Taskforce will involve senior officials from the Department of Health, the HSE and the broader health services. The Taskforce is jointly chaired by the CEO of the HSE and the Secretary General of the Department of Health, who are responsible for reporting regularly to the Minister for Health on progress.

Ultimately, the aim of the Taskforce is to maximise existing funding and provide as many services as possible to patients, while meeting the needs of a growing and ageing population.

Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly said the health service had seen unprecedented investment over the last three years, with over 1,070 acute hospital beds opened, and an extra 25,000 staff hired since 2020 alone.

“That’s a 20% increase, meaning that for every 5 people working in the health service in 2020, we now have 6.  This increase includes 7,510 additional nurses and midwives; 3,881 more health and social care professionals; and 2,859 extra doctors and dentists. We have seen consistent growth in the workforce each year since 2020, with record growth. The workforce growth in 2023 was the highest it has even been since the foundation of the HSE.

“Since 2016 the budget for Health has increased from €11.8 billion to the €22.5 billion announced in the budget for 2024.  In that time, we also saw record levels of recruitment with the number of whole-time equivalents (WTEs) employed rising by almost 40% from 91,559 to 145,052.

“While we have succeeded in increasing activity in our hospitals, this has come at an increasingly high cost. 

“We have seen a divergence between resourcing and activity emerge.  Expenditure on acute care activity has increased by more than 80% over the last seven years, from €4.4bn in 2016 to €8.1bn in 2023, with acute care expenditure now making up over a third of our overall spending. 

“The health services’ pay bill has risen by €3.2 billion in the same period.  The number of patients treated has not kept up with this large increase in resourcing however, rising by just 10-20% over the same period. The hospital workforce has grown by 36% over the same period.

“We are seeing record increases in demand for health services, with Ireland having a rapidly growing and aging population. The number of people aged over 65 has risen by 22% since 2016.

“In the year to June the HSE saw over 3.5 million people in outpatient clinics, carried out 1.16 million day case procedures, had 634,476 episodes of inpatient care and saw 1.68 million patients in emergency departments and injury units.

“As well as treating more people we also see improving outcomes for those we do treat – the number of Irish people who are living after cancer, for example, has grown by more than half over the past decade as survival rates continue to improve.

“The rate of additions to the waiting lists in 2023 was approximately 12% (c. 188k) higher than in 2022 and over 23% (c. 322k) higher than in 2019. 

“While the health service is treating significantly more patients, demand continues to grow. To meet the ever-increasing demand for health services we are changing and must continue to change how we deliver those services.   As the health demands of our population grows, we will have to be develop innovative and sustainable means of meeting this demand.  We need to look more deeply at how we are structuring our healthcare services to ensure that resources are used effectively, and the productivity of the health service maximised. So that we can treat as many people as we possible.”