Health Minister Leo Varadkar has admitted that private hospitals are being used to reduce waiting lists.
As a last resort, patients will also be sent abroad for treatment, he added. A number of older children with scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, have already been treated overseas.
Mr Varadkar told a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee he was upset by the number of children having to wait for scoliosis operations. The HSE 2015 National Service Plan prioritises a reduction in waiting times for hospital care, with a focus on those waiting the longest. The HSE is finalising plans to ensure that a June target of nobody waiting longer than 18 months is achieved. The target for the year-end is 15 months.
Mr Varadkar said help would be needed from the private sector, and even overseas, to meet the targets. Public hospitals were already using private facilities to deal with some cases, he said.
“It will be expensive but it needs to be done,” he said.
There are 412,000 people waiting for a first appointment with a consultant. Mr Varadkar said 170,000 were waiting less than 12 weeks and, in some cases, were being seen within days.
He said the number of people awaiting a surgical procedure had decreased but the number of people waiting a long time for surgery had increased.
Fianna Fáil TD Billy Kelleher said the Government’s decision to dismantle the role of the National Treatment Purchase Fund was coming home to roost.
He said nearly 10,000 people were waiting over a year for an operation, a situation that could put their long-term health prospects at risk. Having public hospitals outsource to private health companies to help clear the waiting list was similar to the function previously provided by the fund, but it remained to be seen how effective this would be.
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