The accuracy of waiting list figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) has been called into question by a consultant who said the official figures were a “tenfold under-estimation” of the actual situation vis-a-vis his own specialty.
Consultant endocrinologist Conall Dennedy said NTPF figures for the end of August showed 144 people waiting for an outpatient appointment for endocrinology services at University Hospital Galway (UHG).
In fact, when he checked with the hospital yesterday morning, the waiting list figure was 1,543.
As Dr Dennehy triages the patients himself, he said he knew the NTPF figure was not accurate.
He said his best guess was that the NTPF had only counted the diabetic patients who were waiting for an appointment, of which there are 111.
“But not the 860 outpatients awaiting a general endocrinology appointment, or the 466 bariatric patients or the 106 patients awaiting appointments for the lipid (cholesterol) clinic, all of whom would fall within endocrinology services,” Dr Dennedy said.
He said it appeared the NTPF was massaging the figures adding not only had they underestimated the size of the waiting list, but also the length of time people are waiting.
The NTPF data shows no one waiting more than 12 months for an endocrinology appointment.
In fact Dr Dennedy said one patient is waiting since May 3, 2016 - two years and four months longer than the official waiting time.
Dr Dennedy was speaking at the joint Health Committee yesterday where the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) and the Medical Council spoke about the ongoing exodus of doctors from the public health service.
The NTPF pointed the finger of blame at UHG saying it was the hospital that supplied the data.
IHCA president Dr Laura Durcan said the answer to the waiting list crisis was to address consultant vacancies, of which there are currently approximately 500.
She said additional consultant appointments in her specialty of rheumatology had helped slash waiting times in Beaumont Hospital, while the loss of two dermatologists to the private sector had led to massive waiting lists.
NTPF data shows almost 3,000 dermatology patients awaiting their first outpatient appointment at Beaumont.
Dr Laura Durcan said these could include patients “with a query melanoma”, who were at clinical risk by virtue of not being seen, as well as patients who had been under the care of the dermatologists who left the service.
Some of these patients were on toxic medications and were struggling to get follow-up appointments, she said.
IHCA president Dr Donal O’Hanlon told the committee that more than one million people are now waiting to access care in public acute hospitals.
He said the "unilateral cut imposed on new entrant consultants" in 2012 - which left new consultants earning up to €50,000 less than colleagues doing the same job - was at the root of the consultant recruitment and retention crisis and that the only realistic solution was to restore parity.
He told the committee that "traditionally" a lot of recruitment is "by word of mouth, but that tends to be a very short conversation when you start talking about pay parity and conditions".
The NTPF has not responded to a request to clarify its figures at the time of publishing.