HSE is forced to abandon target on waiting lists
The HSE has been forced to abandon its promise to have no public patient on a waiting list for more than 15 months for surgery.
It has admitted defeat in getting overstretched hospitals to meet this target in 2017, after waiting lists reached record levels. The new target has moved the goalposts and aims to have no patient in need of surgery for longer than 18 months, according to its National Service Plan for 2017.
The plan sets out how it would spend its €14bn budget for the year. But it comes in the wake of recent figures which showed 538,209 public patients on hospital waiting lists for surgery, an outpatient appointment or endoscopy procedure.
Some €20m has been allocated to "outsource" some of these patients to private or other public hospitals.
But neither HSE chief Tony O'Brien nor Health Minister Simon Harris were able to give figures on how many would benefit yesterday.
However, Mr Harris said the focus would be on treating as a priority those who had been waiting the longest.
He indicated the aim was to try to send as many of those patients as possible to public hospitals which had spare capacity because it was cheaper than private hospitals.
The trolley crisis continued to cause misery for 536 patients across the country, with Cork University Hospital caring for 60 of those patients yesterday morning. The HSE plan revealed that last year more than half of elderly patients on trolleys who were over 75 years of age endured at least six hours on a trolley.
It was now setting a new target to "eliminate" trolley waits of more than 24 hours in 2017.
Mr O'Brien said emergency departments were expected to see an additional 26,881 patients through their doors next year.
There would be improved access to diagnostic services, the opening of the University of Limerick Hospital emergency department and the extension of opening hours in Smithfield Rapid Access service in Dublin.
"A new 75-bed replacement ward block will be opened in Galway University Hospital, while phase two of a new acute medical assessment unit will be opened in the Portlaoise Hospital. Services for complex paediatric care at home will be increased next year, while children who are in receipt of domiciliary care allowance will be provided with medical cards," he said. The plan promised to extend free GP visit cards to children under 12, subject to negotiation with GPs.
Meanwhile, Disability Minister Finian McGrath was forced to reassure people who received emergency personal assistant and home support services this year that they would not lose them in 2017.
The HSE service plan indicated the overall volume of support was set to fall next year. Mr McGrath said however the personal assistance target for 2017 was 1.4 million funded hours - up 100,000 hours over the 2016 target of 1.3 million.
The home support target for 2017 was 2.75 million hours - an increase of 150,000 over the 2016 target of 2.6 million hours.
Meanwhile, speaking on the plan, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said it had no measures to radically alter the trends in Irish healthcare, and 2017 would be difficult.