42,000 removed from hospital waiting lists
Patients who fail to confirm their appointment are deleted after seven days
More than 42,000 patients have been removed from HSE outpatient waiting lists after failing to respond to phone calls and letters seeking to confirm their appointment.
Almost half a million people did not attend hospital appointments last year, and the HSE is seeking to validate waiting list figures.
It aims to reduce these figures by contacting patients to confirm they intend to make their appointment.
A patient is removed from a waiting list if they do not confirm their appointment within seven days.
Statistics given to Fianna Fail by the HSE show that more than 211,000 patients waiting longer than a year to see a doctor were contacted to validate their appointment.
The figures show 42,837 patients did not respond to confirm their appointment.
Fianna Fail deputy leader Dara Calleary last night criticised the system for removing patients from lists and insisted it did not address the wider backlog for appointments.
"This is evidence of trying to manipulate waiting lists without addressing the problem comprehensively," Mr Calleary told the Sunday Independent.
"There are many people who will not be able to respond within seven days and to set such an arbitrary target while ignoring the fundamental problem of waiting lists is unfair. It says a lot about this Government's obsession with making problems temporarily disappear rather than dealing with the substance of the issues."
In response to Fianna Fail, the HSE said there was a system in place to ensure patients could be returned to the list if they still needed to see a doctor but had not validated their appointment.
"The HSE recognises the importance of ensuring that where patients have not had sufficient time or capacity to respond to the issued validation communication, that there is a clear pathway to the re-instatement on the waiting list based on the original referral date. This is normally contact with the hospital through the original referral," it said.
Last night a Department of Health spokesperson said there were almost 10,000 fewer people waiting for hospital operations or procedures than in July last year, and the number of patients waiting longer than nine months had been reduced by almost 8,000.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which outsources hospital appointments to the private sector, has been actively seeking to reduced waiting list times.
"The NTPF has achieved progress in targeting high-volume procedures like cataracts, angiograms, skin lesions, hip/knee replacements, varicose veins, tonsillectomies and cystoscopies," a spokesperson said.