WATCH: 'I know Darragh is suffering' - RTÉ investigates life on a waiting list

Darragh, aged 7, suffers from scoliosis. His condition has steadily deteriorated over the past year and the deformity of his spine has seriously encroached upon his lung function making breathing difficult.

He and his mother are two of the people interviewed for ‘RTÉ Investigates - Living on the List’, which airs tonight on RTÉ One at 9.35pm and followed patients who spend months and even years waiting to get an appointment to see a doctor or to have a procedure or operation.

The programme documents how as time passes patient's conditions worsen and the long term impact can be far-reaching. How the impact goes far beyond the numbers on the waiting lists, as families and friends are also affected.

Some of the other patients the programme followed are:

  • Megan, from Limerick is 13 and also suffers from scoliosis. Her spinal curvature has worsened dramatically in recent times and she now finds it almost impossible to attend school.
  • John is waiting two years to have surgery on discs in his neck; he describes how the level of pain and the long wait for treatment has led him to consider suicide.
  • Patricia has a painful and intrusive gynaecological condition which makes day to day life a struggle. So far she has been waiting two years just to have her condition diagnosed. When she receives a diagnosis she could wait another 18 months to receive treatment.
  • Betty has a painful and debilitating spinal problem. Her quality of life has drastically diminished as she struggles to cope with the pain.

Betty and Pat.

The documentary also reveals the number of patients waiting for operations or medical procedures is considerably higher than the numbers on the waiting lists published by the NTPF, (the National Treatment Purchase Fund which has responsibility for collating waiting list data).

The programme followed patients who spend months and even years waiting to get an appointment to see a doctor or to have a procedure or operation. A number of patients agreed to use cameras to catalogue their story and that of their families as they waited to receive treatment in the Irish public health system.

Every month the NTPF publishes the public waiting list data under a number of categories including the Outpatient Waiting List and the Inpatient / Day Case Waiting List. The Inpatient/Day Case Waiting List typically shows the number of patients waiting for medical procedures or operations. It lists those numbers under various headings for example by Hospital and by Medical Specialty.

The total number of people waiting on the Inpatient / Day Case Waiting List as published by the NTPF on the 30/12/2016 was 81,015. However RTÉ Investigates uncovered evidence that shows there are at least two other significant waiting lists which are not published by the NTPF.

One of those is the Pre-Planned List it contains the names of thousands of patients who require follow up treatment including surgical-pin removal, cataract removal, hip replacement and corrective spinal surgery. Patients on the pre-planned list are typically given indicative dates for their procedures. These dates can range from less than 6 weeks to more than 12 months. The breakdown of the figures on the list would indicate many of the indicative dates are not delivered on by the hospitals.

The second list is known as the Pre-Admit list. It too contains thousands of patients from across the country waiting up to 18 months on surgical procedures. Once again these numbers are not included in the monthly reports published by the NTPF.

In a statement the NTPF said “in line with international best practices, published waiting list data excludes patients classified as Pre-Admit and Pre-Planned Procedures”. It also stated the NTPF is currently “examining updated international best practice around publication models”. This will include Pre-Admit and Pre-Planned procedures.

Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Reducing waiting times for the longest waiting patients is one of the Government’s key priorities, according to Minister for Health Simon Harris, who was responding to the programme.

“The personal stories of the people waiting for treatment are deeply moving and the experiences they describe are absolutely inexcusable.

“I am keenly aware of this burden and it is for this reason that last summer I requested that the HSE put in place an Action Plan to halve the number of patients waiting over 18 months for treatment.

“However, I think it is important to note that, while there are still too many people who have to wait too long for their treatment, as of last December, only 2% of patients were waiting longer than 18 months for treatment. 93% were receiving treatment within 15 months and over half were receiving treatment within 6 months."

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