Friday 22 March 2019

Number on outpatient waiting list soars to a record high of 507,507

Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Health Minister Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The number of public patients on outpatient waiting lists has reached another record, with 507,507 now in the queue to see a specialist.

The waiting figures for April were released as Health Minister Simon Harris was concentrating yesterday on the fallout from the cervical cancer screening scandal.

However, the wider crisis in the health service was ­highlighted by the damning waiting list figures which show the number of patients facing the longest delays of more than 18 months to see a specialist has risen from 77,547 in March to 79,257 in April.

Thousands of these patients have conditions which are leaving them with worrying symptoms and in pain.

Although €55m has been allocated to pay for treatments on public waiting lists this year there is no sign yet of a plan to target patients on outpatient lists.

The April figures show 79,414 public patients are waiting for surgery. This is a slight decrease from 80,058 the previous month. But in a worrying trend, the number of patients waiting longest is also on the rise.

Some 5,739 are waiting for in excess of 18 months compared to 5,497, despite millions of euros in top-up funding.

Thousand of the patients on waiting lists are children and the delays for young patients waiting longest are also deteriorating. They include children who have the severe spinal condition scoliosis.

Around €9m in funding has been provided in 2018 to improve access to paediatric orthopaedic services including scoliosis.

At the end of last month there were 185 patients on the active spinal waiting list, of whom 87 were waiting more than four months.

There are still problems recruiting more consultant and nursing staff in the children's hospitals.

The HSE said that 3.3 million patients attend hospital outpatient clinics for appointments.

A "number of steps are being taken to ensure the lists are accurate and these efforts are to intensify in the coming months with the creation of the outpatients action plan for 2018".

This will be "focused on improving overall use of resources to tackle long patient waiting times and ensuring timely access to treatment and care for patients".

The action plan to reduce the number of patients waiting for surgery is aimed at reducing the queue to 70,000 at the end of the year. It is targeted at high-volume procedures - specifically cataracts, hip and knee replacements, tonsils, angiograms, skin lesions and varicose veins.

In some cases treatments will be insourced to public hospitals with spare capacity.

The extent of the ongoing pressure on hospitals was also highlighted yesterday as 420 languished on trolleys in A&E departments across the country.

Despite the improvement in the weather and end of the flu season, hospital overcrowding is continuing to force hundreds of patients to wait long hours for a bed on a ward - despite promises of improvement by the Government.

Irish Independent

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