‘Callous inertia’ in health reform progress

The Government has been accused of “callous inertia” for the slow rate of progress in implementing its health reform programme, Sláintecare, as 707,000 patients remain on hospital waiting lists.

Despite Health Minister Simon Harris acknowledging that a well-resourced Sláintecare programme office, with an executive director, is a key step towards successful implementation of reform, nobody has yet been hired to fill the top job.

Sláintecare was published more than a year ago and the recruitment process for a Sláintecare chief started six months ago.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health yesterday said an appointment has “not yet been finalised for this post” and “it is expected that the process will be completed shortly”.

Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall, who chaired the committee that devised the Sláintecare plan, said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mr Harris were “presiding over a health system in tatters, with unprecedented waiting lists for medical treatment”.

The figures, from the National Treatment Purchase Fund, have reached their highest level ever, with 511,904 patients waiting for their first appointment at an outpatient clinic. 

Of these, almost 80,000 are waiting more than a year-and-a-half. More than 44,000 outpatients are children.

Another 78,000 people are on inpatient lists, awaiting surgery.

The hospital group with the highest outpatient waiting list, of 108,132, is the south/south-west, comprised of hospitals in Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and south Tipperary.

The orthopaedic outpatient list at South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital is at almost 6,000, the third-highest orthopaedic list in the country. 

Cork University Hospital has the third-highest ophthalmology list, at 6,874.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said Mr Varadkar had promised, when taking over as Taoiseach, that he would take a special interest in health.

“We now see that special interest has amounted to overseeing an increase in hospital waiting lists to record highs,” he said.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said the lengths of time people are waiting on lists overall is falling.

“Of course, any system will have people who are joining the waiting list as it is not an immediate service, but most of these patients are there less than six months and 75% are treated within 12 months,” said Mr Bruton.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said: “Things have gotten so bad that it’s beginning to make James Reilly’s tenure look like a golden age.”

In April this year, Mr Harris launched an action plan with the aim of reducing the number of patients waiting longer than nine months for inpatient procedures by the end of the year, from a peak of 86,100 in July 2017 to under 70,000.

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