Friday 23 February 2018

More patients now on waiting lists than a year ago as Harris fails to keep promises

Minister for Health Simon Harris Photo: Gerry Mooney
Minister for Health Simon Harris Photo: Gerry Mooney
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The number of public patients enduring the misery of hospital waiting lists has jumped by more than 60,200 since the Government took office a year ago.

The alarming upward spiral in waiting lists continued in April with new figures showing 665,618 people now in some form of queue.

It comes as the Irish Independent has learned that the Government's much-vaunted pledge to pay for private treatment for thousands of public patients in private hospitals,under a €15m outsourcing initiative, has not yet even started.

More than four months into the year, no public patient has yet been treated under the plan in a private hospital.

This is despite a promise in January that around 3,000 people facing delays of over 18 months would be out-sourced.

It means vital time is being lost in trying to bring some control to the painful delays for patients.

Simon Nugent, chief executive of the Private Hospitals Association, said: "Up to the end of April no patient files had been transferred over to private hospitals.

"Our hospitals remain on standby to commence work immediately as soon as contracts are signed - hopefully next week."

He warned that the progress that was made in relieving some lists is being eroded by the delays.

"Private hospitals will start scheduling treatment as soon as patient files are referred to them by the HSE.

"They will run theatres 12 hours a day and at weekends to tackle the lists," he said.

Asked about the delay, a spokesman for the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which negotiates with private hospitals, said a tendering process had been completed and patients waiting for over 18 months for day-case treatment were being offered appointments.

Health Minister Simon Harris announced in January that 3,000 public patients waiting for procedures such as cataract removal would have their treatment paid for in private hospitals in February.

But not one patient has yet been treated under the initiative. There were 509,994 public patients on waiting lists in May 2016 when the Government took office.

They are on national waiting lists for surgery, an outpatient appointment or endoscopy procedure.

But the ranks of these patients have now climbed to 570,237. Another 87,707 patients are now on the previously undocumented waiting lists. They have been given an appointment or have been treated and need more care.

It means that 665,618 are in some kind of public queue for care. The April waiting list shows public patients who need to see a specialist are enduring agonising delays.

There are 473,516 on these outpatient waiting lists, including 46,629 facing delays of more than 18 months.

Another 85,299 patients are in need of surgery, many of them in pain. This compared to 74,986 in this predicament in May last year.

The minister said yesterday he would invoke a rarely used legal provision by directing the HSE, through a Section 10 order, to comply with the workforce plan to hire an extra 1,208 nurses this year.

The shortage of nurses is contributing to waiting lists and is a factor in theatre closures.

Meanwhile, efforts will be stepped up next week to try to defuse the row over the ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital to be built on the St Vincent's Hospital campus.

Mr Harris is to meet the boards of St Vincent's and Holles Street to try to secure ownership for the State.

Irish Independent

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