Health Minister Leo Varadkar could be facing a battle to achieve one of his publicly stated health reform targets, after yet another surge in the number of people waiting for hospital treatment.
New figures revealed in the HSE’s November performance monitoring report show, despite Government insistence system problems are being tackled, patients are continuing to face excessive delays in accessing services.
According to the document, more than 382,000 people are waiting for some form of outpatient hospital appointment, up 4,447 in a month and from just over 310,000 last year.
The rates include more than 4,500 people unable to access initial treatment for over a year for a range of serious conditions, which are likely to deteriorate without treatment.
Last week, Mr Varadkar announced a series of health priorities for the year, including plans for no one to be waiting more than 18 months for any kind of appointment by this summer.
The target is up significantly from the eight-month target set by former health minister Dr James Reilly, which despite showing initial promise in 2012 and 2013 is failing to be met.
However, despite the extension of the target, Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher claimed the latest “spiralling” waiting list shows Mr Varadkar’s plan may not be achieved.
“This Government set itself a target in health to have all adults on waiting lists treated within eight months. They failed, and less than six months into the job Minister Varadkar has simply changed the target to 18 months.
“At this point in time nearly one in four adults are waiting longer than the original target time, with more than 4,500 people waiting more than a year for procedures.
“These spiraling waiting lists are a clear demonstration of the Government’s failure to get a grip on the situation. [Emergency department] overcrowding reached record levels earlier this month, and waiting lists are heading in the same direction.
“The abolition of the National Treatment Purchase Fund [a system previously in place whereby the State could effectively buy access to private services for long-waiting public patients] is one of the many errors this Government has made in health.
“Minister Varadkar must take action to address the crises which are escalating under his watch,” he said.
Among the other issues highlighted in the HSE monthly report are that the four-week target for vital colonscopy cancer tests was exceeded 15 times, 835 people were suffering delayed discharges from hospital and ambulance and general hospital attendance rose again.
The majority of these have been consistent problems for previous health ministers over the past decade. In a statement, Mr Varadkar focused on the positives, saying the difficulties are being addressed.
“Some of the figures will improve as further data is published for the winter months. The January figures are likely to show a reduction in delayed discharges, a fall in waiting times for Fair Deal and endoscopies.
“This doesn’t mean we will be slackening off. Hospital waiting lists continue to rise, so it is clear activity will have to be ramped up in the spring and summer. This will, of course, be subject to finance being available,” he said.
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