More than 70,000 left on surgery waiting list despite €50m injection
Plan to ease queues branded 'cosmetic' as patients left in agony
A massive 70,000 patients in need of surgery will still languish on hospital waiting lists at the end of this year - despite an injection of €50m to tackle the crisis.
The Government is again forced to rely on buying expensive treatments for public patients - mainly in private hospitals - to make even a modest dent in the overall waiting list toll.
There are currently 81,500 patients in the queue for surgery - but even if targets are met in 2018 about 70,000 will continue to face gruelling delays next December.
Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday defended the limited return for such a high-priced plan, saying around 20,000 public patients will get their operations in private or public hospitals on the proceeds of this top-up funding of nearly ¤50m.
He said: "This year we will see a significant reduction in the number waiting for a procedure. The target is that the overall number will fall to under 70,000 by the end of the year - from a peak of 86,100 in July 2017.
"All patients who are waiting more than nine months for a cataract, hip and or knee replacement, tonsils, gastro- intestinal scope or one of other high-volume treatments will be offered surgery in 2018 if clinically suitable."
However, the extent to which the Government is losing the battle against hospital queues is borne out by figures showing 63,105 were on the waiting list when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was health minister in 2014. The failure comes despite his pledge to tackle the scourge.
Peter O'Rourke, an orthopaedic surgeon in Letterkenny Hospital, described the plan as a "cosmetic" exercise which would benefit private facilities at the expensive of public care. "We need more public beds. The only way waiting lists will go down and stay down is for public hospitals to do more.
"When I started 21 years ago, I had a waiting time of six weeks for a joint replacement and six operating lists every four weeks. Now I have two-and-a-half lists every four weeks and a 110 people waiting up to 18 months, all of them in pain."
Fianna Fáil's Jack Chambers, TD for Dublin West, warned: "This is a drop in the ocean and a reminder to the majority that they will continue to linger for unacceptable periods on Irish hospital waiting lists.
"The Minister for Health continues to throw money at the health service with repetitive PR announcements and meaningless targets his Government never meets."
There are 692,000 public patients nationwide in some form of hospital queue, including more than 500,000 waiting for an outpatient appointment.
There is no good news in yesterday's plan for outpatient clinics and a separate strategy is awaited to bring some respite to these patients
Referring to public patients waiting longest for surgery, the plan says the numbers facing delays of more than nine months should fall by 10,000 - but that still leaves another 12,500 waiting.
The top-up funding is being managed by the National Treatment Purchase Fund.
Mr Varadkar, who opened 75 more beds in University Hospital Galway yesterday, admitted trolley figures are "far too high".
He said: "More beds and more staff and more money will not just solve the problem.
"We're one of the highest spenders in health in the world - it requires other things as well like clinical leadership, cooperation from unions, work from government and very good management."