Wednesday 12 December 2018

Patient lists for treatment in hospitals set to double as letters sent out to GPs

(Stock image)
(Stock image)
Conor McCrave

Conor McCrave

Patients referred for treatment at hospitals could see waiting times double as GPs are told their patients have been removed from waiting lists and need to be reinstated.

Under a waiting list validation programme the HSE has been issuing patients with letters advising them to contact the hospital if they still want an appointment despite some waiting years to hear from them.

If they don’t reply within a short time frame of ten days they are automatically removed and GPs are informed. However, if treatment is still needed they must be referred again placing them at the bottom of waiting lists.

In recent weeks, GPs have seen an influx of letters from hospital outpatient departments advising their patients would be removed.

Dr Amy Morgan, who is a GP at a practice in Drogheda Co. Louth, said she is seeing an average of 10 letters a day arriving on her desk while her colleagues are also experiencing similar volumes.

When she contacted the hospitals involved to ensure her patients remained on the list for treatment she reached an answering machine and her calls were not returned.

As some waiting periods are already several years long Dr Morgan now fears her patients will fall to the bottom of the list and potentially double the waiting time for them to receive treatment.

“We already know they are in a queue and we’ve deemed they do require specialist care hence the referral in the first instance. We already know there are these waiting lists but then to have that period extended” she said would have “huge implications” for patient health.

Dr Marie Scully, who works practice in Navan said she had received 33 of these letters all at once, with other doctors at her practice having the same complaint.

“It is very disingenuous to send out a letter and then knock them off the list like that,” she said of patients that now must be referred for treatment again.

“It is unfair for these patients to be taking off the waiting list and then put to the bottom,” she said.

Dr Scully said patients were confused and concerned when they are told they have been removed. One patient who had been on a waiting list from 2015 became “irate” after waiting for an appointment for three years only to find out that he had been removed.

Outpatient waiting lists include those who require treatment from Dermatology specialists as well as Orthopaedics and Vascular Surgery specialists.

GP practices around the country in places like Cork and Galway also confirmed they had been receiving these volumes of correspondence fromthe HSE.

Maitiu O’Tuaithail, president of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) said volumes of letters have “escalated to a new level” causing fears that it is a concerted effort to “massage waiting lists”.

The NAGP has called a meeting of the board this weekend to discuss the issue that he said has been raised by GPs with practices across the country.

The Waiting List Management Protocal states “hospital administration contacts patients on inpatient and day case waiting lists at pre-planned intervals during the year to ensure that patients are ready, willing, suitable and available to attend a hospital appointment”.

Waiting lists are experiencing record high volumes at present with over 700,000 people waiting for an appointment according to figures revealed last month. contacted the HSE for comment in relation to this but received not reply at the time of publication.

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