The HSE has been accused of "elder abuse" over the way it manages elderly people on waiting lists amid anger over claims that it has massaged waiting times for outpatients.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said he had spoken to the HSE about claims over the weekend that an internal HSE memo had referred to ways of manipulating figures for outpatient waiting times for procedures.
Mr Varadkar said any figures that had been massaged were “no good to me” and claimed: “The only waiting lists I am interested in are accurate ones that allow us to plan services.”
His predecessor, James Reilly, said he was “a bit concerned” about the prospect of a memo allegedly “floating around” that he had never seen. He said that he was also only interested in “real figures”.
The HSE said certain “inefficient” practices had already been scrapped but denied that figures had been massaged.
Tony O’Connell, the national director of acute hospitals in the HSE, said of the claims made in the Sunday Business Post: “That certainly is not anything that I condone. I am not aware of any memo which suggests that and it would certainly be against our policy of treating patients in order as well as giving some priority to patients that have high acuity and high-risk conditions such as cancer.”
He said thousands of patients had been referred to the private health sector for assessment before rejoining public waiting lists for treatment and told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland this was “clearly not an efficient way to see people” and “that practice has ceased”, as patients were being “double-handled.
Dr O’Connell also said there had been a 10% rise in referrals in the past year and a 5% increase in patient “throughput”, which he accepted was not enough to cater for the demands on the health system.
Amid the far larger number of people on public outpatient waiting lists, the number of people overdue a procedure now stands at 15,000 and Dr O’Connell said that would rise.
However, the Irish Medical Organisation accused the HSE of elder abuse over its practice of writing to patients on waiting lists and demanding a swift response or else lose their place.
IMO president Trevor Duffy said: “It has been ongoing now for at least a year and the HSE seems to have no intention of ceasing it despite the upset and risk it poses for elderly patients. We should not be too surprised given the outright attack on patients during the medical card cull.”
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