Hospital waiting lists still ‘out of control’

Varadkar: Numbers are likely to get worse before they get better

Hospital waiting lists are still surging out of control, with figures revealed just days before the HSE’s 2015 budget plan showing a massive 370,000 people are now seeing their care delayed.

The situation is detailed in the HSE’s latest performance monitoring report, with Health Minister Leo Varadkar admitting the “numbers are likely to get worse” before they get better.

Hard-pressed facilities are struggling to meet Government targets set by ex-health minister Dr James Reilly for no one to wait more than a year for help by December.

At the beginning of October, 46,642 people were waiting more than 12 months for a hospital outpatient appointment, up 5,038 from August. During the same period, the number waiting over a year for planned inpatient or day-case surgeries and procedures such as knee or cataracts operations also rose, from 53,431 to 56,902.

Combined with other factors such as “higher demand and referral rates”, the report said 371,829 people are on some form of outpatient waiting list, with delays from weeks to four years.

Health Service Action Group spokesperson Peadar McMahon said the queues are proof years of austerity have created an “under-funded system that cannot cope with demand”.

The HSE’s 2015 national service plan, which will detail exactly how the health service will spend the money allocated to it by the Department of Health for next year, is expected to be published before the end of this month.

Mr Varadkar accepted that Ireland’s waiting list woes are still hampering reforms.

“There continues to be a mix of improvements in primary care and ambulance services, but ongoing problems in hospitals. There are some positives in primary care, with almost 1,000 fewer people waiting more than 12 weeks for a physiotherapist assessment compared to last year.

“Once again, however, performance in the acute hospital sector is of concern. Outpatient waiting numbers continue to increase, as do waiting times.

“We are taking further action to speed-up delayed discharges and reduce the number of people waiting far too long for operations or outpatient appointments.

“But these measures will take some time to work and will not show up in reports until the middle of next year. Numbers are likely to get worse over the next few months before they get better,” he said.

The same HSE performance monitoring report also confirmed that the HSE is currently €361m over-budget and is expected to bring a €510m deficit into next year unless drastic frontline cuts are made.

The issue is likely to impact on Mr Varadkar’s service plans for next year, and his belief that after years of difficult budgets the Department of Health will next year finally have “realistic” funds to work within.

The deficit issue was highlighted as major medical meeting heard Ireland’s health service has suffered more austerity than any other EU nation.

Speaking at the Irish Medical Organisation’s all-Ireland conference on health and addiction, Dr Stephen Thomas of Trinity College’s centre for health policy and management said this country has seen “the biggest proportionate drop in healthcare across Europe”.

“We’ve lost almost 20% of our health funding, and certainly about 11-12% of our staff.

“We were very surprised to find that, actually, that no other country has experienced that kind of shift.”


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