The health minister’s five-point plan to tackle record waiting lists has been described as “verbiage” and “short-term” at a time when the health service has suffered such reputational damage that doctors and nurses no longer want to work here.
That’s according to consultants, nurses’ representatives, and opposition politicians, who all called for sustained investment in health.
The latest hospital waiting list figures show almost 530,000 patients waiting for treatment or checks at the end of July. More than 430,500 of these patients were waiting to be seen at an out-patient clinic and 77,800 were on the list for in-patient, or day case care. Another 19,700 are waiting for a gastrointestinal check.
Under his plan, minister Simon Harris has pledged to halve the numbers waiting for procedures for more than 18 months by year-end. However, that figure equates to approximately 3,500 patients — a drop in the ocean compared to the overall waiting list figures.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), a Fianna Fáil creation, has been reinstated to help tackle the waiting lists and hospitals have been ordered by the minister to draw up action plans outlining what can be done to reduce waiting times by the end of the year. Clinicians are also being instructed to validate waiting lists and the special delivery unit (SDU) is being tasked with implementing a waiting list improvement plan which individual hospital groups must devise.
While €50m has been being earmarked for waiting list initiatives, that money is not available until 2017.
Leading eye surgeon, Prof Michael O’Keefe, said: “This is all verbiage really, I’ve heard it all before.” He said public hospitals are “inefficient and ineffective”.
Emergency medicine consultant Fergal Hickey said the health service has suffered such reputational damage over the years through stripping of resources that doctors no longer want to work here.
“There were probably 20 jobs [emergency medicine posts] advertised with no applicants,” he said.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) said HSE figures confirm there are almost 3,500 fewer nursing/midwifery posts in the public health service today compared to 2009.
Mr Harris said: “No one announcement is going to fix everything, and that’s why we have to have a 10-year plan.
“But I have no intention of being inactive on this. It is going to take a period of time. My job is to make sure we come at this from all angles.”
Tackling inpatient care lists
Tackling waiting lists
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