€15m fund 'won't benefit patients on waiting lists'
None of the record 473,516 public patients on hospital waiting lists to see a specialist is likely to benefit from the fund to pay for appointments in private hospitals this year, according to internal documents.
The €15m fund to outsource the patients waiting on public waiting lists will be spent on day surgeries and diagnostic scopes.
Correspondence from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which has been given the task of purchasing the treatments from private hospitals, recommends not arranging any outpatient appointments from the fund.
The report to the Department of Health said the "nature of the outpatient waiting list will not, in immediate terms, lead to any measurable performance improvements in relation to overall numbers waiting."
It pointed out that once assessed by a specialist, some of the public patients would be deemed to need follow-up inpatient or day-case treatment and this would incur "substantial costs far in excess of the proposed allocation".
It said that concentrating on treatment for public patients in need of surgery would "break the log-jam" and will lead to additional slots becoming available in public hospitals.
It also added the focus should be on day-case procedures, which also rules out patients in need of more complex surgery such as a hip operation.
The reasoning is that 70pc of patients on the inpatient waiting lists are suitable for day-case procedure such as cataract removal and general surgery.
The report was drafted last October but the Irish Independent reported in recent days that not one public patient has yet been treated in a private hospital this year despite waiting lists soaring again in April to 665,618.
Asked about the crisis yesterday Health Minister Simon Harris said: "It is important now that the NTPF is very much up and working. Patients are getting their appointments. This is obviously the first time in a long number of years that, with the exception of scopes, there has been funding for waiting list initiatives through the NTPF."
Simon Nugent of the Private Hospitals Association said private hospitals would be "happy to discuss" an approach to outpatient treatment for public patients.
He said: "From experience, the most effective way to do it would be to identify priority cohorts, such as longest waiters, in a specific speciality.
"Seeing people on outpatient lists does imply a proportion of them will need treatment but that's not an argument for making them a lower priority.