Delays of seven months in getting vital scan
PUBLIC patients in need of some diagnostic scans in Tallaght Hospital are facing delays of seven months -- three times longer than they should be waiting.
New figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal patients currently have to wait an average of seven months for a CT scan. Patients who need an MRI face a wait of five months.
There are also delays for an ultrasound with public patients enduring waits of around three months.
The waiting times for routine diagnostic tests comes in the wake of the controversy over the failure by radiologists to read nearly 58,000 X-rays in the past four years.
Thousands of other patients who were referred to the hospital by their GPs waited in vain in recent years after the referral letters were not even opened by the hospital.
Tallaght Hospital is also failing to meet the public-private split of activity, which should see no more than 20pc of insured patients treated in the hospital. It is failing to meet this target for a range of specialities including: orthopaedics; ear, nose and throat surgery; general surgery and general medicine.
The hospital has come under fire in the past for the high proportion of private patients on its treatment lists, although it is surrounded by areas which are very socio-economically deprived.
The hospital also has a very high number of patients who do not attend for their appointments, a practice which the HSE has been aiming to reduce in hospitals across the country.
The figures show the no-shows are as high as 30pc for ear, nose and throat appointments, and it averages nearly 20pc across the hospital -- almost double the HSE target.
"Unfortunately, there are substantial wait times for some of our specialty clinics," a hospital spokeswoman said. "We are actively working closely with the Health Service Executive and the National Treatment Purchase Fund to improve this.
"For example, wait times for urgent colonoscopy (bowel examination) patients were up to eight weeks a year ago and now no such patient is waiting for more than 28 days."
The hospital refused to say how many of the radiologists in the hospital have a private practice. It is understood some of the radiologists are allowed to practice in private clinics in Dublin as part of their normal work contract.
Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Department of Health on behalf of absent Health Minister Mary Harney yesterday -- who is currently in New Zealand on a 15-day St Patrick's day junket -- said the review of the remaining 23,000 unread X-rays "is being completed as fast as humanly and physically possible".
"Every avenue has been explored to ensure that this is the case," Ms Harney insisted.
"Additional radiology consultants are working alongside the permanent staff of the hospital to clear the backlog.
"I have been assured that there is no question of the reading of X-rays being held up now for want of qualified clinicians to read them. The review will be completed in approximately 10 weeks.
"During the review, any patient who needs any further service will be contacted immediately and any necessary services will be provided to them. I am advised that the level of risk for remaining cases to be reviewed is low."