Patients face waiting-time lottery to get hospital scans
PATIENTS in need of routine scans and X-rays face a 'postcode' lottery, with delays ranging from two weeks to seven months depending where they live.
The variations were revealed yesterday in new figures from the Health Service Executive (HSE).
The figures, compiled as part of league tables for March, which aim to measure the performance of hospitals under various headings, do not give reasons for the variations -- but underlying causes include levels of staffing, demand and availability of alternative services in a region.
Public hospitals with some of the worst delays for an outpatient appointment for an ultrasound scan are Limerick Regional and St Luke's Hospital Kilkenny.
Both these hospitals have waiting times of seven months or more for this form of scan.
Tallaght Hospital in Dublin has a waiting time of nearly six months for an ultrasound, according to figures supplied by hospitals to the HSE.
In the Mater Hospital in Dublin, which is to close 60 beds in the coming weeks, delays for a routine ultrasound can extend to almost three months.
Patients referred there by a consultant for an MRI scan can wait more than six months.
Delays faced by patients needing more basic routine X-rays also vary from a week in Galway University Hospital to six weeks in Tallaght Hospital.
Waiting time for an X-ray in Mayo General and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin is around a month and just two weeks in Letterkenny General.
Only St James's Hospital in Dublin is at the "very good performance" zone, with all others, bar one, deemed average. The exception is Cork University Hospital, which requires "urgent attention".
It is still treating too many private patients in areas like orthopaedics, ophthalmology and general surgery while a significant number of public beds in the region are closed.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said yesterday that 138 acute inpatient beds across the various hospitals in the HSE South, including Cork and Kerry, are currently closed.
"Bed closure plans have to be looked at in the context of delivering the level of service as per the HSE's Service Plan within the available resource.
"It is also important to note that bed closures are not all as a result of cost-containment measures," she said.
"Beds may be closed for other reasons; infection control, refurbishment, etc. And in many places beds are closed as a result of internal efficiency measures.
"The focus for 2010 is to continue to provide for emergency admissions and priority service workload in our hospitals, including elective surgery, while controlling the overall level of acute work within the context of a reduced resource," she said.
"People will be treated in a more effective way with no reduction in access to appropriate services. There will be a continued shift to care on a day-case basis, with plans to deliver an increase of 6.5pc over the day-case target."
The waiting lists figures or diagnostic tests in public hospitals cover both public and private patients.
This follows the introduction last year of a HSE rule that patients should be seen on the basis of medical need -- and not allowed to jump the queue because they have private health insurance.
But many patients with private health insurance are covered for tests in other medical facilities which have no waiting time.