Plans to financially penalise hospitals that do not cut waiting times have been branded “simplistic” because they do not take account of staff shortages.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar is set to reward hospitals that meet new targets with extra resources at the expense of other institutions that do not fare as well.
An extra €25m is being made available to boost better-performing hospitals under the initiative to cut waiting times for procedures below 15 months.
However, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the plans were flawed as they did not consider the lack of consultants and other key staff.
“First of all, the minister has consistently moved the goal posts on waiting times, and 15 months is unacceptable for people in pain,” said Mr Kelleher.
“It is simplistic to penalise hospitals that do not do as well as others as the issue of capacity needs to be taken into account and looked at.
“Some hospitals are more efficient than others, but that may well be down to lack of capacity at them.
“So the minister needs to look at whether there are enough consultants, or theatre nurses, or other grades of staff at the hospital, as that may well be the real problem going on there.
“I agree with the need to reward efficient hospitals, but it is not as simple as that, that it is all down to money following the patient.
“The measures that are needed to tackle the problems of capacity are what the minister should be looking at as we try to cut wait times.”
DCU professor Anthony Staines said it was welcome, but more was needed to deal with wider issues in the health service.
“It could be a bit of a double-edged sword,” Prof Staines told Newstalk. “The resources are clearly needed. There is no point saying we are going reducing waiting lists and not putting any money into it. But you also have to ask yourself what are the waiting lists for and, in some way, waiting lists are the symptom of a problem in the system and this is a problem that goes a bit wider and deeper than acute hospitals.
“So, yes, it is very welcome to have extra money, because there are people on the waiting lists for what I think most of us would regard as unacceptable lengths of time.”
A health department source said that more money would go to hospitals that produce the best results.
Procedures considered “non-urgent” such as hip and knee replacements are among those that will be included in the new target scheme.
Up to 20,000 patients have been treated in private hospitals in a bid to ease pressure on HSE institutions.
Mr Varadkar’s pleas for an extra €1bn in funding for the HSE in the October budget have meet with a cool response from Public Expenditure Reform Minister Brendan Howlin, a former health minister.
Mr Howlin wryly noted that €1bn seemed to be the figure everyone in charge of the HSE asked for each year.
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