Thursday 23 November 2017

New action plan to reduce 'unacceptably high' hospital waiting lists by end of year - Harris

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath
Minister for Health Simon Harris. Picture Credit : Frank Mc Grath

Meadhbh McGrath

Health Minister Simon Harris has announced a new five-point action plan to reduce hospital waiting lists by the end of the year.

Last month, the number of public patients in the queue for an outpatient appointment, surgery or procedure hit a record 530,000.

Speaking to RTE Radio One’s Morning Ireland, the Fine Gael TD said he will be implementing five initiatives to tackle overcrowding.

“There’s absolutely a need to make sustained investment in waiting list initiatives. I’m going to put my hands up and say that I genuinely believe it was a significant mistake to deactivate the NTPF (National Treatment Purchase Fund),” he said, referring to the independent body which had its funding slashed in 2014.

"Whatever people think of the ideology, if you’re sitting at home today and you’re in need of an operation, what you don’t want is a big ideological debate, what you want is action.

“We now have a situation in relation to waiting lists where we clearly need targeted, funded actions.”

The Wicklow and East Carlow TD said that in this year’s Budget, set to be released in October, there will be at least €50m devoted to waiting list initiatives, and that €15m of that sum will go to the NTPF.

Mr Harris added that he had ring-fenced €1m for the NTPF to carry out 3,000 endoscopies over the coming months, and advised the body to prepare proposals for him for next year.

“But that’s not enough. What are we going to do this year, in 2016? We’re in August, we’ve a number of months left in the year and waiting lists are unacceptably high,” he said.

He explained that he has developed a five-point action plan listing initiatives that can be taken between now and the end of the year.

The first point pledges to reduce the number of patients waiting more than 18 months for inpatient procedures by 50pc.

“That’s about 7,500 people. We’ve got to start with the people waiting the longest, that’s the fairest and equitable way,” he said.

The second initiative targets waiting list accuracy, and clinical validation of all inpatient waiting lists will be carried out by the end of the month.

Mr Harris explained that clinical validation means that doctors will review each patient’s files and decide when a patient needs a procedure, to eliminate mistakes and ensure the list is arranged in chronological order.

The third step will see a special delivery unit visiting hospitals to oversee the implementation of a waiting list improvement plan.

The fourth action requires the appointment of an improvement lead, which he described as a person “specifically responsible for tackling waiting lists”. That person will be tasked with making sure hospitals are carrying out the “maximum amount of procedures possible”.

For the final point in the plan, Mr Harris said he has requested waiting list proposals from the HSE that could be carried out for this year, which will be delivered by the end of the month.

He noted that as well as the €50m in the Budget for waiting list initiatives, there will be an additional €40m allocated for home help, to assist patients who can continue their treatments at home rather than in the hospital.

Mr Harris declined to offer a minimum figure for the improvements he’d like to see in a year’s time, instead offering his plan as “a vision” for the future.

“This is no longer about asking hospitals to do more with less, it’s about asking hospitals to do more with more,” he said.

“I’m not going to give you an arbitrary figure today, I’m going to give you a plan and a vision.

“We now have an action plan for a waiting list for this year and a funded plan for next year.”

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