Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Despair' over €50m plan to cut waiting lists

Reilly hits back at Harris for “significant mistake” claim

Simon Harris: €50m to be spent on targeted actions. Picture Credit: Frank McGrath
Simon Harris: €50m to be spent on targeted actions. Picture Credit: Frank McGrath

Kevin Doyle and Niall O'Connor

Health Minister Simon Harris's new five-point plan to tackle hospital waiting lists has been met with criticism from one of his predecessors and with "despair" by nurses.

Former minister James Reilly hit back at his Fine Gael colleague's claim that deactivating the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) was a "significant mistake".

The fund, which is responsible for collecting, collating and validating information on people waiting for public hospital treatment, was partly wound down during Mr Reilly's tenure as minister.

In many cases it organised for patients to be treated outside the public system in order to reduce waiting times.

Last month, the number of public patients in the queue for an outpatient appointment, surgery, or procedure reached a record 530,000.

Mr Harris has now set aside €15m to restart the NTPF as part of a programme of "sustained investment in waiting list initiatives".

"I'm going to put my hands up and say that I genuinely believe it was a significant mistake to deactivate the NTPF," he said.

However, Mr Reilly, who was health minister between 2011 and 2014, rejected the criticism, saying that while its role changed, the NTPF remained in existence and that resources were used by a Special Delivery Unit in "more innovative ways".

"Inpatient waiting times were reduced to eight months. Long trolley waits were reduced by a third," Dr Reilly, who is now a senator, told the Irish Independent.

"The NTPF was not disbanded. The board remained in place. But during that time, it failed to address the issue of people waiting the longest. It didn't tackle the issue people waiting five or six years."

Mr Harris said that €50m is being made available for "targeted, funded actions" to reduce waiting lists.

His five point includes:

■ Reducing by 50pc the number of patients waiting over 18 months by year end.

■ Clinical validation of all inpatient/day-case waiting lists where patients are waiting longer than 15 months by end of August.

■ HSE to roll out Waiting List Improvement Programme in each Hospital Group.

■ Special Delivery Unit Improvement Leads to drive the Improvement Programme at hospital and group level, monitor how hospitals are performing on a weekly and monthly basis and report regularly to the Department of Health.

■ HSE to develop further waiting list proposals for 2016 for targeted measures to address waiting lists in a number of specialist areas.

Read more: New action plan to reduce 'unacceptably high' hospital waiting lists by end of year - Harris

Read more: 3,000 to get fast tracked endoscopy procedure

There are currently 3,488 patients waiting inpatient/day-case procedure for more than 18 months.

"Reducing patient waiting times is a priority and requires a concerted effort," Mr Harris said.

However, the General Secretary Liam Doran said the plan amounted to more layers of management.

He said talk of a Special Delivery Unit brings him "into the realms of despair".

"That is code for some new level of management overseeing some existing layer of management to decide whether what they said they were going to do, they were actually going to do.

"I would much prefer the minister tell directors of nursing, 'here's the budget, here's the funding; you manage the staff on the front line, you deliver the targets'," he said on RTÉ's 'Sean O'Rourke Programme'.

Mr Harris told the Irish Independent his plan is a genuine attempt to move quickly on the waiting list problem.

He is to visit a number of hospitals around the country in the coming weeks to assess the situation on the ground.

Some Government sources said they believe Mr Harris's remarks on the NTPF are influenced by Fianna Fáil, which sought its reinstatement as part of the deal facilitating a minority government.

"This is about keeping Fianna Fail happy," one source said.

Irish Independent

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