The Government has launched yet another initiative to tackle endoscopy waiting lists as figures show that almost half of the 19,850 people awaiting the diagnostic test are not being seen within the target time of 13 weeks for routine cases.
Yesterday Health Minister Simon Harris launched the National Treatment Purchase Fund’s (NTPF) €1m endoscopy waiting list 2016 initiative to outsource endoscopy procedures for patients currently waiting more than 12 months, or who would have been waiting over 12 months by the end of this year.
An endoscopy involves a flexible fiberoptic endoscope with a tiny camera attached being passed into the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine, allowing the doctor so see the inside lining of the digestive tract.
The Department of Health expects that around 3,000 patients will be cared for under this initiative, developed between the department, the NTPF, and the HSE.
A similar €1m initiative was commissioned across 13 hospitals in March 2014 to fund 2,000 extra scopes but waiting lists continued to grow.
By September that year, the numbers waiting more than 13 weeks stood at 4,483 — a 12.7% increase compared to the previous month.
Almost two years later, that figure has more than doubled to 9,397, or 46.2% of the total number of waiters. The RCSI hospital group has the largest waiting list, with 5,324, including 2,764 in Beaumont Hospital. Mr Harris said the RCSI group was “also undertaking an insourcing endoscopy initiative within its group of hospitals” and that under this initiative, some patients on Beaumont’s waiting list could have their procedure carried out at other hospitals in the group, such as Connolly or Cavan General Hospital.
The Dublin Midlands Group also has a large waiting list of 5,185.
Yesterday Fianna Fáil claimed the credit for “securing the restoration of the NTPF” under which €50m is due to be invested from 2017.
Health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the party insisted it be included in arrangements to facilitate the formation of a minority government.
“The previous Fine Gael-led government decided to abolish the NTPF despite several organisations warning that the decision would have a detrimental impact on our health service,” he said. “The decision to abolish the NTPF proved to be disastrous, and led to record waiting lists in our hospitals and chaos in our health service.”
On a more positive note, the majority of urgent colonoscopy cases are seen within the target four-week timeframe set by the HSE although that figure has been climbing. Figures from the most recent HSE performance monitoring report show that as of the end of April, 54 urgent cases had not been seen within the target time. The majority of these were within the RCSI group, 35 at St James Hospital and 13 at Tallaght.
The strict referral time for urgent colonoscopies was set amid a public backlash in 2007 to the death of Susie Long,who, as a public patient, had to wait seven months for a colonoscopy to diagnose the bowel cancer that subsequently claimed her life.
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