Monday 16 September 2019

Record 546,630 people languishing on hospital outpatient waiting list

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Eilish O’Regan

THE number of public patients waiting to see a specialist has climbed to another new high with 546,630 on outpatient lists - a rise of over 4,700 in a month.

There are 70,219 patients on waiting lists for surgery, a slight fall from 71,205 in February.

Another 22,192 are waiting for a gastrointestinal scope compared to 21,423 in February.

The latest figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) come as hospitals remain under severe pressure from overcrowding this week.

It recently emerged that up to 25,000 public patients who have been on a waiting list for surgery for more than six months will be offered the option to have treatment paid for privately this year under a new plan to reduce the hospital queues.

The NTPF, which has €69m in top-up cash to spend on buying private slots for public waiting list patients, will donate €58m towards making inroads to surgery delays.

In a separate move, it will also aim to target the massive outpatient waiting lists.

Around 40,000 of these outpatients will be offered a private appointment.

A third category will see €5m spent on buying gastrointestinal scopes for the 21,423 patients who are waiting for the investigative procedure which examines areas like the stomach.

This NTPF purchased care will happen in either a private hospital  or a public hospital with spare capacity, according to the HSE plan.

It is aimed at supplementing the regular surgery carried out in public hospitals which can be the victim of cancellations and curtailment due to pressure on beds due the trolley crisis.

At the end of 2019 there will still be 60,000 people waiting for surgery, 510,000 on outpatient queues and around 16,500 in need of a gastrointestinal scope.

The surgery blitz is targeted at patients who are in the areas of the biggest need including cataracts, hip and knee replacements, tonsils, varicose veins, bladder examinations, skin lesions,plastic and general surgery, gallbladder removal, deviated septum operations and dental procedures.

Around 8,000 slots are to be offered to patients for other procedures including squints and hernias. Some 2,000 “very long” waiters will also be contacted.

The areas prioritised in the outpatient clinic initiative include ophthalmology covering eye conditions, ear nose and throat problems, orthopaedics and dermatology which includes people who need to see a specialist due to skin symptoms.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on health, Stephen Donnelly has said the latest outpatient waiting list figures are testament to a Government ”which is floundering helplessly on multiple fronts within the health service.“

He pointed out a  new record total of 101,724 people have been waiting for an outpatient appointment for 18 months, while over half a million people in total are on outpatient lists.

“This is the first time the number waiting 18 months plus has broken the 100,000 threshold. It is a shocking figure and it represents an increase of 88,629 since Minister Harris took office in May 2016.

“Of course it is 101,724 more people than Taoiseach Leo Varadkar envisaged, when he declared back in January 2015 that ‘no patient will be on a hospital waiting list for more than 18 months’. It is a target that was never met and one that we are further away than ever from meeting.

“All of these people have been waiting since September 2017 or earlier. It will be no comfort to any of the people on the list that the Minister’s goal for 2019 is ‘the stabilisation of the outpatient waiting list’.

“So far this year even that goal is failing. The list is actually up some 30,000 – an increase of more than 5 per cent so there is a long way to go before the Minister achieves his very unambitious target for outpatients in 2019.”

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