HEALTH Minister James Reilly has given hospitals strict new deadlines for reducing waiting lists this year, warning that no public patient who needs admission for surgery or other procedures should endure a delay of more than eight months from next June.
Dr Reilly has set out the instruction in a letter to Health Service Executive chief Tony O'Brien, the Irish Independent has learned.
The letter makes clear that the slippage in waiting times, which led to thousands waiting past the eight-month time limit for much of last year, cannot be repeated. The warning comes despite hospitals facing severe health cuts this year.
Dr Reilly said that, for the past three years, hospitals were given until the end of December to have nobody waiting over nine or eight months.
"I am concerned that the focus on achieving a specific target by the end of the year is not properly incentivising some hospitals to manage their waiting lists all year round.
"Last year, patients were enduring long waiting lists in the middle of the year and an intervention fund was required to reduce lists by the end of the year.
"I understand that there is a seasonal increase in waiting lists at the beginning of each year. However, I would like to see hospitals meeting the eight-month target for inpatient procedures in the first half of this year and maintain this in the second half."
Referring to outpatient lists, he said he also wanted to see hospitals have nobody waiting more than 12 months to see a consultant by the middle of this year and this should be reduced to nine months by 2015.
Meeting this deadline would be toughest in the area of orthopaedics and ear, nose and throat specialist appointments, he acknowledged.