Hospital queues jumped by some public patients as others 'forgotten'
Some public patients are jumping hospital queues and bypassing outpatient waiting lists for eye and orthopaedic surgery, a report has revealed.
It means they are spared a delay of up to 18 months for an outpatient appointment and are going directly on to a surgical waiting list.
Other patients who need heart procedures are also being fast-tracked to be seen by cardiologists ahead of others.
Meanwhile, patients whose condition is described as "urgent" by their GP, and who are in need of priority, can end up forgotten about on a hospital list for more than 18 months.
The damning behind-the-scenes audit shows how waiting-list patients can be at the mercy of disorganised systems operated by hospitals.
The audit looked at 200 patient cases across five hospitals: Our Lady's Crumlin; Tallaght; the Mater; the South Infirmary and Cork University Hospital.
The audit, commissioned by Health Minister Simon Harris, found some community-based ophthalmologists or who are not hospital based are directly sending patients for cataract operations for placement on a surgical list.
However, this practice, which was found in all the hospitals, is in breach of rules, because under waiting-list protocols they should be referred to an outpatient list first; otherwise, they are leaping ahead of other patients.
The report, carried out by the National Treatment Purchase Fund, found this "direct" referral of eye procedure patients is a particular issue in Cork University Hospital.
There is also evidence that it is happening in other specialities, including cardiology and orthopaedics.
This is leading to "inequity of access" to treatment for public patients, the report warned.
Some patients are ending up lost for months before being placed on a list and others are being place in the wrong queue.
The audit comes as this week's figures show that 684,000 people nationwide are in some form of hospital queue.
The audit was conducted in the wake of the 'RTÉ Investigates' programme 'Living on the List'. It lays bare the disorganised systems in place, which may be costing very ill patients the timely treatment they need.
The audits revealed:
In Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin, some children had no date stamp on their form stating when they were referred. It was unclear how long they had been waiting.
Two children deemed "urgent" were not sent an acknowledgement letter when they were referred and did not have an appointment booked for two months.
In Tallaght Hospital, 12 patients were termed as "urgent" but five were waiting up to 15 months and four for more than 18 months for the orthopaedic service. In the Mater Hospital, the audit showed that there could be a gap of more than seven months between the time a patient was recorded as placed on a waiting list and being entered on the list.
In response, the minister said a number of actions were under way, including a training programme on waiting-list management in hospitals.