HOSPITALS will be penalised financially for failing to refer patients to the National Treatment Fund (NTPF) for surgery, Health Minister Mary Harney has warned.
She said it was inexcusable that 2,155 people were waiting more than a year for operations when both the capacity and finance needed to treat them was available.
The NTPF has identified five hospitals it says account for over half of the patients waiting longer than a year for surgery.
The hospitals are Cork University, Letterkenny General, Sligo General, Tullamore and Tallaght in Dublin.
Asked what excuses had been made by the hospitals for not referring patients to the fund, Ms Harney replied: “I have got no good reason as to why this isn’t happening and I intend to engage with the five hospitals involved.”
The minister, who was speaking at the launch of the NTPF’s annual report for 2007 in Dublin, pointed out that the Health Service Executive (HSE) was looking at rates at which hospitals refer patients to the fund as a key performance indicator.
She warned that funding of hospitals would follow performance.
Over the past 12 months the NTPF managed to reduce the number of people waiting 12 months or more for surgery by 3,251 and is determined to reduce the numbers waiting to as close to zero as possible by the year end.
Cork University Hospital (CUH) said there were 265 patients waiting over 12 months.
However, it said this must be discounted in respect of those needing complex treatment; those who have not responded to the NTPF’s offer of treatment and those who wanted to stay on the hospital’s waiting list, a situation that would leave about 20% to 30% who would qualify for referral.
Latest NTPF figures show that 16,166 adults and children are waiting more than three months for surgery across 43 hospitals.
Average waiting times for the most common surgical procedures are now two to five months compared with waiting times of two to five years in 2002 when the NTPF was established.
The NTPF, which has treated more than 110,000 patients to date, plans to provide 23,500 operations and arrange out-patient clinics for 13,500 people this year.
NTPF chief executive Pat O’Byrne said the fund now arranged operations in every surgical speciality and that 99% of the patients are treated in Ireland.
The report shows that one in four patients are over 80 while one in three were aged between 61 and 80. One in 10 were children or teenagers under 18 years.
The NTPF also contacted more than 20,000 patients and arranged 10,569 consultations during the year.
Fine Gael’s health spokesman Dr James Reilly described the waiting list figures as the ultimate betrayal from a Government that promised an end to waiting lists by 2004.
Ms Harney also warned that spending on health cannot be immune from the economic circumstances the Government now found itself in.
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