Patients have just days to respond to letters
Patients who have endured gruelling delays to see a specialist - sometimes lasting years - are only getting seven to 14 days to respond to a hospital letter asking if they want to remain on an outpatient list.
Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, president of the National Association of General Practitioners, has highlighted how many have to respond in as little as 10 days.
The HSE said yesterday patients who are waiting longest on the list are most likely to receive a letter asking if they want to remain on the list.
There are more than 511,400 patients on outpatient waiting lists nationwide and 80,697 have been in the queue for at least 18 months. The HSE defended the validation exercise, saying it improves the process and also the access times for patients who want to stay waiting.
"GPs are notified if a patient is being taken off a waiting list. If the GP considers their patient still requires an outpatient appointment then the patient is reinstated at their original position and appointment date on the waiting list," said the HSE.
"Last year almost half a million outpatients did not attend their outpatient appointment.
"In order to help patients access timely appointments, the HSE is asking patients to let their hospital know as soon as possible if they cannot attend scheduled appointments so other patients may be offered appointments."
The national guideline is that if a patient fails to respond to the first letter asking if they still want to stay waiting, they should be issued with a reminder and given a second chance to reply.
Hospitals can also phone or text the patient.
The HSE spokeswoman insisted that the patient's GP is alerted if a patient is being taken off a waiting list.
GPs have complained, however, that the letters about the removal of patients arrive at their surgery without warning. They find it difficult to contact the clinic and can be forced to leave messages on answering machines in a bid to sort out the problem.
An action plan to tackle outpatient waiting lists, which have spiralled over the past year, is now long overdue.
The most recent figures show that the queue to see an ear, nose and throat specialist is the largest, with 66,870 waiting.
The next highest list is for patients who need to see an orthopaedic surgeon to be assessed for a range of conditions, including hip and knee operations. There are 11,108 people waiting for a year and a half or more to see an orthopaedic surgeon.
There are large numbers across the country on outpatient waiting lists to see a general surgeon, urologist, gynaecologist, cardiologist or neurologist.
Children are also facing delays in orthopaedics and cardiology.