Harris faces into crisis as waiting lists reach record high
The number of public patients languishing on hospital waiting lists has reached a new record - breaching 500,000 for the first time, damning new figures have revealed.
The grim toll of suffering for people who need a surgical operation, an appointment with a specialist or a gastrointestinal check has worsened for the fourth month this year.
The stark waiting-list figures for April, published yesterday, show that the new Government is further than ever from meeting the modest target to have no public patients queueing for longer than 15 months.
Newly installed Health Minister Simon Harris has inherited a major crisis as hospitals sink even further into the red.
They are now struggling with a backlog of increasingly sick and urgent patients, whose surgeries have had to be cancelled in recent months to relieve bed space in order to cope with emergency department trolley overcrowding.
A massive 407,257 are waiting for an outpatient appointment, the figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund show.
A further 74,274 are in a queue for surgery, while 19,416 need an internal scope for a gastrointestinal condition.
The Programme for Government is promising a special €15m to go to the National Treatment Fund to treat, in mostly private hospitals, those public patients waiting longest. But this is only expected to make a modest dent in the figures. Some 66,421 are waiting over a year for a specialist appointment and a further 10,254 are facing the same delays for surgery.
The frustration of surgeons, who are seeing their plans for surgery cancelled in order to free up beds to reduce emergency over-crowding, was recently summed up by Letterkenny orthopaedic surgeon Peter O'Rourke. He said his life had turned into a depressing version of 'Groundhog Day' and that he was forced to walk his dog on mornings when he should have been in theatre.
Patients needing hip and knee operations, general surgery or ear, nose and throat surgery are among the worst hit.
There are 34 children in the three main children's hospitals in Dublin who are waiting more than 18 months for surgery.
And the new Programme for Government does not inspire much confidence when it comes to tackling the trolley crisis and hospital waiting lists.
The number on trolleys for over six hours is to be gradually reduced, but this will involve another review of where more hospital beds are needed.
The €15m for the National Treatment Purchase Fund - to outsource public patients waiting longest for surgery or clinic appointments to private hospitals - will only stretch so far, given the 500,000 in the queue.
But then all promises on health in the new Programme for Government must be met with a strong dose of caution, given they are not costed and the HSE is already facing into a deficit of around €500m this year.
They cover an extremely wide mix and several are merely recycled aspirations.
Tangible 'giveaway' pledges include reducing the prescription charge for medical card holders and cutting annual payouts for drugs by private patients who use the Drug Payment Scheme.