Patients taken off waiting list due to ‘administrative error’

Hundreds of people with potentially serious health conditions whose hospital appointments have been delayed for more than a year were accidentally wiped off a waiting list due to a HSE “administrative error”.

The HSE has confirmed the situation occurred at St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, Dublin, late last year — just in time to bring the facility into line with Health Minister James Reilly’s much publicised waiting list cutback targets.

The mystery mistake, which has been corrected, involves 350 people waiting over a year for an outpatient appointment at the hospital’s public obesity clinic.

Under HSE waiting list policy, people whose pleas for help have been delayed a significant amount of time are asked whether they still need to see a doctor.

Donal O’Shea, consultant endocrinologist at the clinic, told www.irishhealth.com that all 350 patients affected by the error had confirmed in writing to the HSE they still needed assistance.

However, in a move a spokesperson described as an “administrative error”, they were instead placed on a suspended second list — meaning the 350 patients were no longer counted on official waiting lists.

This situation brought St Columcille’s into line with treatment delay reduction targets championed earlier this month by Dr Reilly, a move the HSE said will be “corrected” when the latest waiting time figures are published shortly.

Prof O’Shea said the error suggests that waiting lists reductions may in some cases be cosmetic.

“What they have done, as far as I can see, is suspend part of the waiting list,” he said.

“People who were waiting over a year for a first appointment at the Loughlinstown obesity clinic were recently written to and asked if they still wanted to be seen. If they didn’t get back to the HSE they were removed from the waiting list. If they were lucky enough to get their reply back in time they were designated as due to be seen sometime this year.

“These patients no longer appear on the official waiting list. Around 350 of our obesity patients have been suspended in this way. They are a ‘suspended cohort of patients awaiting review’.”

A HSE spokesman said officials organised a national outpatient “validation process” last year to ensure patients waiting a long time were prioritised.

“Hospitals made contact with patients by phone and/or letter and those contacted were given five to 10 working days to confirm if they required an appointment,” said the spokesman.

“If there was no contact from the individual after this time period, they would then be removed from the waiting list and both the patient and their GP were notified of this.”

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