3,500 left in limbo as doctor referrals ignored
ALMOST 3,500 letters requesting an appointment for public patients in Tallaght Hospital were still gathering dust last October.
The hospital was forced to make the admission after a local GP said he feared the number of unopened letters from GPs seeking an appointment for patients, some of whom had serious symptoms, was as high as 30,000.
The hospital conceded that as late as October last year there was a backlog of 3,498 of these referral letters which had not been reviewed by a specialist.
A spokeswoman claimed all of these were now being actively dealt with.
But she refused to say how long they had been neglected by the hospital.
"The 3,500 were GP referral letters. We are not making any further comment on the letters at this time. We are focusing all our effort on clearing the X-ray backlog and actively managing the GP referral letters," the spokeswoman said.
The hospital insisted there were now no unopened GP referral letters either for adult or child patients and that significant improvements had been made in improving the speed of these requests in the majority of clinics in the past year.
Prof Tom O' Dowd, the local GP who notified the patient watchdog HIQA about the hospital's failure to ensure radiologists read all important patient X-rays, said patients with potentially serious medical conditions may have been the victims of the unopened letters.
Another local GP, Aodhagan O' Reilly, echoed Prof O'Dowd's concerns.
He revealed he stopped referring patients in need of orthopaedic assessment to Tallaght two years ago because so many of his referral letters were left unanswered.
Dr O'Reilly said it appeared the hospital was now going through old referral letters and he recently received a query about a patient he referred for orthopaedic assessment as far back as 2007.
"The patient was referred to another hospital instead and has had their hip operation in the meantime," he told the Irish Independent.
Dr O'Reilly said the hospital's failure to reply to the letters was common.
He claimed a letter sent from one of his patients back in 2004 had still not received any acknowledgement from the hospital.
This was despite the fact that he was among a group of GPs who met with hospital executives or doctors monthly where the problem was regularly highlighted.
"I believe they are trying to clean up with the letters now but we brought it to the hospital's attention again and again in recent years," Dr O'Reilly added.
"We were told they would look into it. The worst problem appeared to be in the area of orthopaedics. In the end I stopped referring people and have sent patients to other hospitals for the last two years."
However, Dr O'Reilly said the situation had improved since Prof Kevin Conlon took over as chief executive designate in December. But he added that patients in need of diagnostics continued to face long delays.