Outsourcing of patients is a costly exercise
Published 15/05/2015 | 02:30
Outsourcing of hospital waiting lists for some public patients is back on the agenda, despite a promise by the Government in 2011 that the setting up of its new Special Delivery Unit would make hospitals self-sufficient when it comes to clearing waiting lists.
The reality is that buying surgery slots or outpatient appointments for public patients in mostly private hospitals has never gone away, although there has been reluctance to publicise it. To do so would have been an admission of failure.
What makes the outsourcing different this time is that hospitals, or the groups they are part of, are using their own funding to tender for the work. Previously, a special fund was set aside to clear the waiting list bottleneck in this way.
For years the National Treatment Purchase Fund did the bargaining, but former Health Minister James Reilly made much of diminishing its role. He set up the Special Delivery Unit to tackle underlying issues contributing to waiting lists.
Its special advisor was UK management consultant Martin Connor, who was paid handsomely. He left for Australia before his contract was up.
There is much controversy about paying for patients to be treated privately. Each surgery or specialist appointment is more costly than if done in-house.
Several doctors also spoke of the complications caused by sending a patient for a specialist appointment in a private hospital.
If they were deemed to need surgery they would have to be returned again to the public waiting list in order for the consultant who would eventually operate on them to assess them again.
Public doctors were particularly critical of this at the end of 2013, saying it was merely a waiting list figure massaging exercise.
However, for those patients who get the long-awaited operation or see a specialist who is able to tell them about their diagnosis, the exercise is well worth it.
The current target is to have nobody waiting more than 18 months by July for inpatient or outpatient treatment - a far cry from the Government's pre-election promises of an end to the two-tier health system.