Hospitals are warned to stop 'queue-jumping' among public patients
Hospitals have been told to stop the practice of "queue-jumping" by some public patients, the Irish Independent has learned.
Instead, hospitals should stick to treating public patients who need an operation or outpatient appointment based on how long the person has been on a waiting list.
An internal audit, carried out for the Department of Health, found that 1,560 routine public patients on waiting lists were given a date ahead of another who had been in the queue for longer.
Hospitals where some public patients were "skipping the queue" included University Hospital Galway, Cork University Hospital, Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin, Beaumont Hospital, Tullamore Hospital, St James's Hospital and Tallaght Hospital, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.
It comes as the latest public waiting list figures for surgery show an increase in "long waiters".
Some 20,267 are facing delays of 15 months or more to see a specialist while 4,296 are enduring the same hold-ups for surgery. According to the Department of Health, all routine cases should be treated in strict chronological order. However, the audit showed that failure to comply with this rule resulted in half the patients on some lists being treated ahead of others.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said hospitals have been given a target to treat 90pc of public waiting list patients chronologically this year.
Last year, it only managed 79.8pc nationally. The reasons for selecting a patient for an appointment must always be their "clinical" priority, the HSE spokesperson insisted.
"While hospitals seek to schedule their routine patients in a chronological way, it is not always possible; this can be due to a number of factors, such as patient unavailability or changes in their clinical condition."
For example, when a patient cancels an outpatient appointment, the administrative staff seek a replacement patient in order to maximise existing capacity.
It is sometimes the case that the next patient waiting may not be able to attend and it will be offered to a patient further down the list.
"This is particularly the case if the cancellation is short notice.
"Adherence to chronological scheduling is only monitored for routine patients. Urgent patients are seen according to clinical priority."
She said an audit team is now tasked with ensuring chronological booking is being implemented. "The audit team visits each hospital and undertakes a forensic analysis of the management of the waiting list," said the HSE spokeswoman.