479,000 outpatient no-shows last year

Almost half a million outpatients did not attend their hospital appointment last year, Health Minister Simon Harris has told an Oireachtas committee.

Almost half a million outpatients did not attend their hospital appointment last year, Health Minister Simon Harris has told an Oireachtas committee.

“The outpatient waiting list remains a big challenge that needs to be addressed,” Mr Harris told a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health.

“It is worth noting that last year almost half a million (479,000) outpatients did not attend their appointment,” he said.

This was not “patient blaming”, said Mr Harris, but he did suggest there is a serious issue about ensuring the accuracy of waiting lists.

Mr Harris said the missed appointments could have been taken up by somebody else and added that the HSE is working with his department on the matter.

“Tackling this issue and the balance between new and return appointments will free up considerable capacity to address outpatient waiting lists,” he said.

“A number of steps are being taken to ensure the lists are accurate and these efforts are to intensify in the coming months.”

Sinn Féin’s Louise O’Reilly, who chaired the meeting, said she understood that sometimes people were taken off hospital waiting lists without a clinical decision being made if they failed to respond to a text message or letter.

HSE director general Tony O’Brien said text messages are only used for specific, individual appointments only. It would not result in a person being taken off a list.

“But a failure to respond to a text might result in that individual appointment being reallocated so that it is not lost to the system and that would be quite a standard process,” said Mr O’Brien.

Ms O’Reilly asked if a person would be taken off the list if they did not respond to a letter.

Mr O’Brien said the patient concerned would no longer be “active” on the list but could be reinstated if they or their GP responded at a later date.

The HSE chief also told the committee there had been no withdrawal of cover for the pain relief patch Versatis (Lidocaine) for people with a medical card or under the Drugs Payment Scheme.

Sinn Féin senator Rose Conway-Walsh said she had been contacted by many people since December 1 who were finding it difficult to get the patch prescribed.

She said she was “baffled” as to why it had been withdrawn.

Ms Conway-Walsh said the amount of additional money the HSE would end up spending on anti-depressants and on other drugs that did not work would far outweigh the €30m spent on Versatis.

Mr O’Brien said there had been no withdrawal of reimbursement for the patch.

Since September, however, GPs must apply to the HSE’s Medicines Management Programme for approval to prescribe the drug. Approval was also needed for continued prescribing after three months.

“The reason this was introduced was that there was a strong sense that this patch was being inappropriately prescribed, both by condition and duration,” said Mr O’Brien.

Mr Harris said there is a need for clarity on the issue.

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