Surgery cuts would ‘turn back clock’ on reforms

A leading action group for the elderly has warned that rerouting money away from surgeries like hip replacements and cataracts to more serious, life-threatening conditions would “turn back the clock” on healthcare reform.

Age Action Ireland spokesman Eamon Timmins made the claim after the Health Information Quality Authority (Hiqa) confirmed it had been asked by the HSE to examine the merits of such a move.

Under the proposal, the State health watchdog was requested to spend the next year assessing the value of continuing funding levels for 20 of the most common form of non-life-threatening hospital surgeries.

While the exact procedures have yet to be confirmed, they will include hip replacements, cataracts, skin lesions, tonsillectomies, and some cosmetic surgeries.

Should Hiqa recommend support for the HSE plan, access to the proposed 20 procedures could be drastically cut by as early as 2014.

It would, however, free up extra funds to tackle life-threatening conditions with chronic waiting lists that are competing for finances with such procedures.

Mr Timmins conceded nobody would argue people in serious need of life-saving treatment should be told to wait.

However, he said if it was only done by removing money from services that improve the quality of life of people in chronic pain, it would be a retrograde step that would lead to more complex decisions for health service managers.

Mr Timmins said: “Nobody would want to prevent someone with a life-threatening condition from getting help, but it can’t be at the expense of people who are going through chronic pain that’s diminishing their quality of life.

“It’s a very difficult position, but this proposal does seem to play down the suffering people are going through due to old age.

“Hip replacements and cataracts are not life-threatening but they are life-changing. These kind of very difficult decisions are being made because not enough money is in healthcare.

“We have to ask ourselves are we willing in our society to accept this is where we’re going to be, because if you’re to roll this plan out then where does it go?

“Are we going to say in the future that this life-threatening condition should have funds but another one is less important? I really don’t think in a progressive country that’s where we should be going.”

According to Hiqa, demand for scheduled non-life-threatening surgeries — also known as elective surgeries — “continues to exceed capacity”, with a 22% increase in patients between 2010 and 2011.

It is considering whether limiting access to these procedures to only patients who will benefit the most from them would be a better use of HSE funds.

Hiqa will be examining the procedures under issues such as cost, pain level, age of patient, and quality of life.


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