Surgery waiting lists soar 2,000pc as gridlock in A&E takes priority
THE number of patients facing long delays for hospital treatment has soared almost 2,000pc since the beginning of the year, new figures reveal.
At the end of February there were 2,141 people on waiting lists for surgery and other procedures for more than nine months – the deadline set by the Department of Health.
This compares with just 109 facing delays of nine months or more at the end of 2012, the official figures for adults and children confirm.
Among the longest waiting are 396 people who have been on lists for a year or more – up from 37 at the end of December.
One of the main reasons for the spike in delays is that many patients scheduled to be admitted to hospital from waiting lists have had to be put on hold because of the priority given to easing gridlock in emergency departments as they face some of their busiest months of the year.
The increase in numbers comes against a background of a year of success in cutting waiting times for those who have been longest in the queue.
At the end of February 2012 more than twice as many patients – 4,884 – were on waiting lists for nine months or more.
The disappointing trend follows weeks of huge pressure on emergency departments due to an influx of patients with respiratory complaints and flu.
It means that hospitals, which are under pressure to control the numbers left on trolleys, have had to transfer patients to wards meant for the admission of people on waiting lists. Beds have also had to be closed due to the ongoing high numbers of patients suffering from the winter vomiting bug which is contagious and requires strict infection control measures.
Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, which has 210 patients on waiting lists for more than nine months, announced yesterday it has to continue with strict visiting restrictions over the St Patrick's weekend as more patients have been diagnosed with flu.
"The hospital is appealing to the public to avoid visiting Beaumont Hospital, St Joseph's Hospital, Raheny, and the Raheny Community Nursing Unit unless absolutely essential.
"This applies to visits to A&E or as visitors and is to protect both patients and the public from the spread of influenza that is prevalent in the local community," said a spokesman.
"This is against the backdrop of 113 cases of influenza recorded in the hospital since the outbreak began in mid-February."
Essential visiting may only take place between 6pm and 8pm, with only one visitor allowed per patient. No children are allowed to visit.
Around 59pc of new A&E patients in Beaumont were admitted to a ward or discharged in less than six hours from their arrival in January compared to 50pc in May 2012.
Commenting on waiting-list numbers nationally, the Department of Health said a standardised approach to managing scheduled care treatment for in-patient, day case and planned procedures has been developed since January.
This sets out that "all administrative, managerial and clinical staff follow an agreed national minimum standard for the management and administration of waiting lists for scheduled care".
Hospitals are also ordered to bring down the numbers of people on outpatient waiting lists to see a specialist.
The department said resources are to be targeted towards those patients who are waiting longest and ensure that they are seen and assessed.
For 2013, a maximum waiting-time target has now been set at 12 months for a first-time outpatient appointment.