Friday 20 September 2019

Hospitals in 'two strikes and you're out' list rule

Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Julien Behal
Health Minister Simon Harris Photo: Julien Behal
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Hospitals have been told to operate a "two strikes and you're out" clean-up exercise to find out if patients on public waiting lists still need treatment.

It comes amid record numbers on lists, with more than 690,000 people waiting for some procedure, outpatient appointment or review.

Waiting list figures for September released yesterday show little respite for patients.

The outpatient waiting list dropped to 495,318 from 497,158. But the numbers waiting more than 18 months have gone up from 59,483 to 60,971.

The number waiting for an operation fell from 83,946 to 83,037. This is despite €20m being targeted at the crisis already this year.

The number of people waiting for an operation for over 18 months fell from 6,490 to 5,801.

Meanwhile, the waiting list for endoscopy procedures increased from 18,508 to 19,190.

Under "the two strikes and you're out" policy, hospitals will send all patients on waiting lists for over six months a letter asking if they want to remain on the waiting list.

If there is no response they are issued with a second letter. If this letter is not responded to, efforts are then made to contact the patient at their home.

At that stage a "removal letter" is sent to the patient, their GP and consultant telling them they are being deleted from the list.

Hospitals insist that clinical guidance is sought when managing urgent and vulnerable patients on a case-by-case basis.

Hospitals are completing about two of these validation exercises a year on inpatient and day-case waiting lists. Up to one in 10 patients are being removed from lists in some hospitals.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris said he wants to clampdown on the problem of 1,300 people a day failing to keep their appointments at public hospital outpatient clinics.

"In order to ensure that outpatient services, and the time of clinical staff, are used to best effect, it is important the HSE progresses initiatives to reduce the number of people not presenting for outpatient appointments," he said.

"Consequently, the HSE is investing in digital and technological systems to ensure that patients are appropriately reminded.

"One of the solutions eHealth Ireland has proposed is to provide a standardised national patient reminder service using SMS or email.

"This solution has the potential to reduce the number of people who do not show up for appointments."

Commenting on the waiting list figures, Simon Nugent, CEO of the Private Hospitals Association, said it was time to "stop tinkering with the numbers at the margins and to see real reductions".

"The endoscopy waiting lists are up by 682, which is similar to the number of patients to be treated by the minister's endoscopy NPTF initiative announced in the last couple of weeks.

"It looks like this will just address this one month increase. This is worrying."

Irish Independent

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