Patients in 'limbo' as specialists close their waiting lists
HUNDREDS of public patients are "in limbo" after hospital specialists refused to add them to their waiting lists as the lists are already so long, it emerged yesterday.
Fianna Fáil TD Colm Keaveney told HSE chief Tony O'Brien he had a file of letters which hospital consultants have sent to GPs who had referred their patients on for specialist care.
The letters include patients in Dublin, Cork and Galway. They are leading to patients being referred back to their GP and not placed on any waiting list while not being recorded in official figures, he added.
"These patients are effectively being denied access to diagnostic tests and procedures. The situation is becoming increasingly murky as an unprecedented number of patients languish on waiting lists, while hundreds more are being refused access to treatment," said the Galway TD.
The file includes letters from overwhelmed doctors in the Mater Hospital and the Mercy and South Infirmary Hospitals in Cork. They were referred for orthopaedic examinations, skin lesions and pain management.
A letter from the pain-management service in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin said its resources were triaging patients with urgent needs in its own catchment area.
The letter from dermatologists in the South Infirmary said simply that due to "prolonged waiting times" it is not able to accept referrals for certain conditions.
The issue was brought before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children yesterday. Mr O'Brien said he would examine any evidence that he received from Mr Keaveney.
Asked to comment last night a spokesman for Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: "The minister is concerned at any reports that a small number of consultants are refusing to see new patients.
"Such practice is not encouraged and is not HSE or government policy."
It is understood that the former head of the acute hospitals' section in the HSE, Tony O'Connell, wrote to consultants in recent weeks saying they could no longer tell GPs they were closing their waiting lists.
But some specialists say a patient referred today may not be seen for three years.
The minister's spokesman said advertisements for the first 30 consultants to be recruited in the wake of agreement on revised pay scales of up to €175,000 are published in newspapers today and this will make a difference to hospital services.
Questioned on medical cards, John Hennessy, director of primary care in the HSE, insisted that "discretion is being stretched to the limit" for people who have medical need but are over the income threshold.