Saturday 20 October 2018

Minister pulls plug on patient treatment fund for new unit

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Reilly: setting up new unit

Health Minister Dr James Reilly will today announce the end of the scheme which provides private treatment for public patients languishing on waiting lists.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) is to be subsumed into the new Special Delivery Unit. Dr Reilly will outline the formation of the new unit today.

He is also expected to announce that €20m of the €85m allocated to NTPF this year will be diverted to hospitals which have the longest trolley queues in A&E departments.

The NTPF was to pay this year for treatment of around 30,000 public patients facing delays. However, the Irish Independent understands that it will stop making new referrals for public patients to private hospitals from the end of June.

It is believed that funding for the scheme may stop at the end of this month as part of a new drive to cut waiting lists.

It is unclear what will happen to thousands of other patients on public waiting lists who were hoping to have their care paid for by the NTPF this year.

The fund was set up in 2002. Former health minister Mary Harney insisted that it was an efficient use of money to outsource the care of public patients to the private sector if people were treated faster.

The news comes as the latest figures show that the number of patients on public waiting lists for surgical and medical procedures surged from 18,319 in December to 24,179 in April.

There were 611 people waiting over 12 months for surgery at the end of April last year, but a year later this had risen to 1,608.

NTPF patients who were booked for surgery and other treatments will still be cared for in private hospitals until the end of the summer.


The minister had indicated in the Programme for Government that he intended to wind up the NTPF, but no timeline was given.

A spokeswoman for the NTPF yesterday refused to comment. It is understood that moves to set up the Special Delivery Unit to tackle waiting lists are in place.

It is expected that it will be chaired by Dr Martin Connor, a management specialist trained by the NHS in Britain who will spearhead a drive, similar to that employed in the North, to reduce waiting lists.

An announcement about the unit is due before the end of the minister's first 100 days in office. The HSE has already overspent its budget by around €100m this year.

The interim board of the HSE, made up of HSE executives and Department of Health officials, held its first meeting yesterday amid growing concern about the ability to meet targets for services this year.

The Dail was told yesterday that 4,604 applications for the Fair Deal scheme, providing financial support for nursing-home fees, were outstanding. Funding for the scheme has been stalled due to a cash crisis.

Speaking last night, Dr Reilly said approvals for people wanting financial assistance for nursing home care will resume at the end of next week or early the following week.

However, the rate of approvals will not be as high as before the Fair Deal scheme was suspended -- leaving elderly people on waiting lists to go into a nursing home.

Irish Independent

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