Hospitals fined €5.8m for waiting list delays
Fines worth €5.8m are being imposed on hospitals in a bid to reduce waiting lists for public patients, it has emerged.
The first set of monthly fines have now been activated in the wake of waiting lists figures showing the numbers of patients waiting more than 18 months for an operation or an appointment to see a specialist are continuing to rise.
The "carrot and stick" approach means the worst performing hospitals in August will lose out on the funding and the money will be re-distributed to hospitals which are best meeting targets to treat patients.
A spokeswoman said the penalties were being imposed on seven hospital groups.
They are most severe on those with the highest number of patients waiting.
Although the department is not naming groups or hospitals which are losing out, those in the north-east, including Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and the west, such as University Hospital Galway have had the poorest figures in recent months.
The knock-on effect for some patients is that the original hospital they were due to attend may be changed.
They are likely to be asked to attend another hospital and consultant instead or else remain in the queue with their original arrangements.
The HSE has made some exceptions in terms of penalties for hospitals which are under particular pressure due to lack of beds and staff.
The level of fines will increase or decrease on a monthly basis until the end of the year depending on the level of breach of the 18-month cut-off.
The most recent figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund show another rise in those facing longest delays,despite promises this would end in June.
At the end of last month more than 13,000 were waiting more than 18 months to see a specialist and 2,200 were waiting as long for an operation.
The department said that 2,120 of those waiting over that period for an outpatient appointment will be seen in the next six weeks. And 2,501 of those waiting 15-18 months for an outpatient appointment have been given a slot in the next six weeks.
"Concerned efforts have been made to reduce outpatient waiting lists, whether by facilitating additional clinics outside conventional working hours or by outsourcing where the capacity is limited in particular hospital groups," a spokeswoman said.
"The success of this approach is evident, with the reduction since the end of August of over 2,800 in the overall outpatient waiting lists and by the reduction of almost 1,700 in the number of people waiting between 15 and 18 months for appointments.
"It is disappointing to see that the number of people waiting over 18 months has increased, but it is acknowledged that over 4,621 outpatient appointments will be provided specifically for those waiting 15 months and over in the next six weeks. As regards waiting times for a surgical or medical procedure, the growth in waiting lists has slowed but not reversed."
There has been a rise in the numbers of patients referred for routine endoscopy scopes.
There is a policy of zero tolerance for any breach in the four-week limit for a colonoscopy, which investigates the bowel for conditions such as cancer.