Friday 24 November 2017

Patients suffer as our hospital queues reach a record high

Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Minister Simon Harris Photo: Tom Burke
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Hospital waiting lists have reached yet another all-time high with more than 535,000 public patients now in a queue for treatment or awaiting investigation for a potentially serious illness.

Despite months of promises from the Government to tackle waiting lists, the suffering goes on for many very ill patients.

Many of these desperately need an operation, diagnostic procedure or appointment with a specialist.

Newly released figures for October reveal the extent of the crisis and show that nearly 27,000 more patients are now on hospital waiting lists since Health Minister Simon Harris took office.

The HSE said yesterday that 416,000 people who had appointments to see a specialist last year did not turn up.

But it failed to say how many of these patients, whose condition was serious enough to be referred by their GP, died while they were waiting or had to pay for a private appointment - even though they may have had to get into debt to do so.

The latest figures show 78,621 are waiting for an operation, up by 1,000 compared to September.

While there was a fall of around 3,000 in patients in this surgical queue for more than a year, the longest waiters - those waiting beyond the target time of 15 months - actually grew.

There is now a record 438,931 people waiting to see a specialist, a rise of 700 compared to September. In another worrying trend, the number of patients waiting longest for one of these appointments past 15 months jumped by 2,000.

Despite funding being targeted at reducing the queue of people needing an endoscopy procedure, an invasive test for conditions including cancer, the drop of 700 was marginal.

It still leaves a staggering 17,984 waiting to find out if they have a serious illness.

There was no statement on the figures from Mr Harris, but the HSE again pointed to the growing influx of patients who are attending hospitals.

Hospitals increased the number of inpatient and daycase surgery by 4pc this year but they cannot keep pace with demand, while emergency departments are seeing a 5pc rise in patients compared to last year.

It said progress is being made in reducing the numbers of patients waiting more than 18 months for surgery.

It is now recruiting what it termed "improvement leads" which will involve putting some existing consultants in a HSE-funded post to drive the campaign to try to bring the waiting lists under control.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund is to get €20m in 2017 to outsource some patients who have been waiting longest to hospitals with spare capacity. But this is unlikely to mean any dramatic improvement.

Irish Independent

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