Sunday 25 August 2019

More than one million people now waiting for healthcare

Simon Harris. Picture: Collins
Simon Harris. Picture: Collins

Kevin Doyle and Hugh O'Connell

More than one million people are now on a waiting list for some form of treatment in our struggling health system, the Irish Independent can reveal.

Shocking new figures show one in five people are waiting for appointments, including in the areas of mental health, speech therapy and homecare support.

Around 174,000 of those waiting for a consultation are now doing so for more than a year - a figure described as "remarkable" by Fianna Fáil.

Former health minister James Reilly ordered the HSE in 2011 not to leave any patient waiting in excess of 12 months for an appointment.

That was later abandoned by Leo Varadkar who set an 18-month target.

"Timely access to care must be a fundamental right.

"Over the course of the past eight years, it is a right that Fine Gael has consistently failed to realise," Fianna Fáil's deputy leader Dara Calleary said.

The figures were compiled by his party through a series of queries to the HSE and Department of Health.

They show there were 1,124,598 people across various health waiting lists during the first half of 2019.

Mr Calleary said a similar study last August had the figure at below one million - but that threshold "has been easily breached, with little hope of progress anytime soon".

"Over half the total is made up by the outpatient list with 560,251 waiting in June this year," he said.

"However, there are also big waiting lists in primary care with significant numbers waiting to see dieticians, psychologists and audiologists.

"The waiting lists for therapies are also extensive with over 100,000 needing services in speech and language, occupational or physiotherapy," Mr Calleary said.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Simon Harris said the Government acknowledged waiting times "are too long in certain areas".

However, his office argued that adding various waiting lists together "does not create an accurate picture and it disregards increasing activity in our health service with more people being treated each year".

"This year, over one million people will receive hospital operations or procedures, over three million people will have an outpatient appointment and over 1.5 million people will be seen across the eight different primary care service areas," a spokesperson said.

They also said the length of time which people wait is the most important statistic and "many patients are waiting within the Sláintecare target of 12 weeks or less".

"For example, two years ago over 4,000 people were waiting over nine months for a cataract procedure.

"Now just over 400 are waiting in that category and three in five people are waiting 12 weeks or less for a cataract procedure, with the vast majority waiting less than six months."

Funding

Mr Harris's office noted that the number of patients being seen across all services is up 4pc on expected activity.

They also pointed to increased funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) under the confidence and supply agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

The spokesperson said Mr Harris has secured €75m for the fund and ensured it is no longer exclusively invested in the private sector.

Mr Calleary accepted progress has been made in certain areas, including a 20pc reduction in the inpatient day care list from its peak in 2017.

However, he said this was due to Fianna Fáil's demand for the NTFP to be restored.

Irish Independent

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