Tuesday 19 November 2019

Meet the families living life on hospital waiting lists as numbers soar to a new record of 658,677

Colette Hutchinson Photo: Douglas O'Connor
Colette Hutchinson Photo: Douglas O'Connor

Eilish O'regan

Hospital waiting lists have hit a new record, with 658,677 patients now in some form of queue for care - a jump of nearly 15,000 in a month.

The underlying trends are also increasingly worrying. There is particular concern at the rise in the numbers of patients who are waiting more than 18 months for surgery or an outpatient appointment.

These include children as well as young people with deteriorating scoliosis who need spinal surgery.

There were 1,182 children waiting over a year for surgery across the three Dublin hospitals last month - 50 more than in February.

Figures for March released yesterday show the people needing a hip operation or cataract removal, many of whom are elderly and immobile, face particular delays.

Overall, there are 569,887 on the traditional lists for all forms of surgery, a specialist appointment or endoscopy procedure, up from 556,008 in February.

Independent.ie spoke to the families who are living life on the waiting lists.

Mother-of-two Elaine Davis has been forced to pay €8,000 for a double hip replacement as a private patient – because she is tired of waiting on a public hospital list.

Elaine Davis
Elaine Davis

Ms Davis (42), from Ballyphehane, Co Cork, highlighted the scandal of public hospital waiting lists in February, when she appeared alongside a host of patients on RTÉ’s groundbreaking ‘Living on the List’ documentary.

She said that she was willing to pay for surgery after being told it could be up to 24 months before she gets an operation date.

“This can’t go on,” she said. “We’re talking about my life. I’ve got two small boys, I work full time. I can’t wait any longer in pain. This is everyday.”

The pharmacy technician had waited more than a year just for a consultation.

After appearing on the documentary, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin, who had taken up her cause, received a letter on her behalf.

The correspondence from the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH) stated she should expect to be issued with an appointment by June. But when Ms Davis questioned what this appointment was, she realised she was no closer to getting her double hip replacement and opted to go private.

“This was just my initial appointment and that it taking place was dependent on if there were emergencies,” she said. 

“I could have been on the waiting list for the operation for another two years. 

“I’ve been waiting since last February to see the an orthopaedic surgeon, so I went to see him privately in October.

“He told me I needed both hips replaced but couldn’t envisage seeing me on a public list.

“I was told it could be done privately no problem.

“Getting the operation as a private patient, in the same hospital where I could have been a public patient, is the irony of it all.

“I’m going to have to pay the €8,000 because I’m waiting a year now and I just couldn’t carry on. I’m really suffering and my life is worth more than anything.”

Dad-of-three Alan Vickery had waited almost a year for surgery to remove a life-threatening brain tumour.

Alan Vickery Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Alan Vickery Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Mr Vickery (46) from Clarehall, Dublin, appeared on the RTÉ documentary ‘Living on the List’ and is convinced doing so could have saved his life.

The Dubliner underwent an operation in recent weeks in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin.

He said he is delighted that he finally got the operation he desperately needed.

“The doctors told me in 2016 I wouldn’t live if I didn’t get an operation, so I’m very thankful to the documentary for raising this issue,” he said. “I’m convinced I’d still be waiting on the list if I hadn’t spoken out.”

Mr Vickery says he only received a date for a procedure to remove 80pc of the tumour, after the HSE was notified he would be appearing in a documentary.

“They got 80pc of the tumour and the rest they will remove with radiation,” he said. “I’m worn out with it all but I’m relieved.”

As recent figures show that waiting lists have increased by nearly 15,000, Mr Vickery said waiting for an operation is a very stressful experience. 

“I’d been diagnosed in February 2016. I was told then the tumour could be removed with micro-surgery through the nose.

“But the tumour was left so long that it more than doubled in size.

“I have ended up with an 11-and-a-half inch scar on my head.

“I know that could probably have been prevented if they’d acted sooner but all I care about is that I had the operation and the tumour has mostly been removed.”

Megan Halvey-Ryan (13) finally had surgery to straighten her spine last month, after waiting almost two years for surgery for scoliosis.

Her mother is still angry at the HSE for what her daughter was forced to go through. The teenager, from Dooradoyle, Co Limerick, had a S-shaped curvature and touched the hearts of the nation through her plight.

Megan appeared on the ‘Late Late Show’ to talk about her wait for surgery.

Her mother Sharon told the Irish Independent that she is relieved her daughter got the help she needed.

However, she said the huge delay in treatment has made the road to recovery even more difficult.

Megan Ryan Photo: Liam Burke
Megan Ryan Photo: Liam Burke

“I’m still angry,” Megan’s mother Sharon said. 

“Megan’s recovery and surgery is 10 times worse because of the delay. This is State neglect of our children – it’s a breach of children’s rights, the way the HSE makes kids wait for vital operations. If the HSE doesn’t sort it out, other children will get to the extreme of Megan and she was in such a lot of pain.”

Sharon has witnessed her daughter stand up straight for the first time since the operation, at Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin, last month.

“Megan has started to walk her first few steps in physio,” Sharon said. 

“I looked at her through the window and I was stunned, bawling crying. This was my beautiful, towering girl, who’d grown inches. Megan needs a lot of pain relief but in time she’ll be better.”

Mother-of-three Colette Hutchinson had to wait 21 months to get a vital spinal operation.

The 49-year-old from Lucan, Co Dublin, suffered excruciating pain and said she was unable to do simple things with her daughter Abigail (12) due to her condition.

Ms Hutchinson told how she was left in limbo and would constantly ring Tallaght Hospital to try and get an update on her status.

She underwent a disc fusion procedure at Tallaght Hospital, but only after she appeared on a documentary highlighting the plight of people in this country waiting for operations.

She is convinced the public pressure caused by the media attention helped her get an operation.

“I was on the TV on a Monday and I received a call on Wednesday and attended a hospital appointment on a Thursday,” she said.

“I had the operation six weeks later.”

By the time she was finally treated, Ms Hutchinson had lost much of the power in her arms.

The procedure carried out has now helped her recover and she’s getting her life back on track.

“I used to ring the hospital every month to see was I closer to getting an appointment,” she said.

“My life had stopped. My youngest, Abigail, lost out on a lot because of my health problems. I said to myself she who shouts loud gets heard and I was delighted to be part of it.

“No one should have to suffer, to wait so long and we shouldn’t have had to go on TV but I’m glad I did.”

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