Thursday 19 September 2019

Outpatient crisis deepens as 569,498 languish in queues to see a specialist

Stephen Donnelly. Picture: Collins
Stephen Donnelly. Picture: Collins
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The crisis in hospital outpatient waiting lists has deepened with a record 569,498 public patients now in queues to see a specialist across the country.

The lists have jumped by over 53,336 since last January - and more than 117,000 patients are waiting at least a year to be seen.

Among those waiting for an outpatient appointment are 46,551 children.

The latest figures released by the National Treatment Purchase Fund look set to dash pledges by the HSE that outpatient waiting lists would stabilise this year and that they would fall from 516,000 at the end of 2018 to under 509,000 this December.

Combined with failures to control A&E overcrowding, the figures pose new questions about the ability of new HSE chief Paul Reid and the board to deliver a better service.

Some progress is being made in tackling surgery queues after the injection of €75m to pay for patients to be treated privately.

At the end of August some 68,390 people were waiting for an appointment for their inpatient or day case treatment compared to 68,807 in July.

Another 22,544 patients were waiting to receive an appointment for their GI endoscopy, compared to 22,592 in July.

Dr Donal O'Hanlon, president of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, warned outpatient waiting lists are also largest in those specialities with the greatest shortage of consultants or where vacant posts are more prevalent, such as in ear nose and throat, orthopaedics, dermatology, ophthalmology, general surgery or urology.

"Patients can experience a deterioration in physical functioning, vitality, social functioning, mental health and general health when waiting longer than three months for a procedure," he said.

"Long waits also contribute to costs and inefficiencies because hospitals must use resources to administer waiting lists, reassess patients' conditions after their long waits and provide more costly, complex care when patients are ultimately seen and treated after emergency department presentation."

He blamed the failure to fill 500 permanent consultant posts for contributing to the spike.

Commenting on the figures, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said the lists were continuing a relentless upward surge.

"Every month so far in 2019 we have seen the outpatient waiting lists hit a record high," he said.

"The outpatient waiting list is now up by more than 10pc this year so Health Minister Simon Harris has failed in his very unambitious goal for 2019 of stabilising it.

"In 2015, then health minister Leo Varadkar promised that Fine Gael would bring to zero the number of men, women and children waiting over a year-and-a-half for an outpatient appointment by the end of June that year," said Mr Donnelly.

"When Minister Harris took office in 2016, the number stood at over 13,000.

"Today, in spite of the health budget growing by an unprecedented €3.5bn, the number is now more than 106,000 men, women and children.

"So, for every one person waiting when Minister Harris took office, there are now seven people waiting over a year-and-a-half.

"The additional numbers represent Croke Park filled to capacity, plus another 10,000 on the pitch.

"Men, women and children are waiting, suffering and getting sicker."

Irish Independent

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