Efforts underway to clear waiting list backlog at Mid-West hospitals

Efforts underway to clear waiting list backlog at Mid-West hospitals

The UL Hospitals Group has started rescheduling deferred outpatient appointments and surgeries.

Outpatient waiting lists in the Mid West have surged since 2019, with pressure increasing due to cancellations throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UL Hospitals Group has started rescheduling deferred outpatient appointments and surgeries, but it has been unable to put specific timelines on how long this process would take to complete.

The group, which runs six hospital sites in counties Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary, accounted for 9% of all healthcare activity in the country between 2020 and 2021, said Professor Brian Lenihan, UL Hospitals group clinical director.

Professor Lenihan said that nationally there were 617,448 outpatients — 534,071 adults and 83,377 children — awaiting a first consultation at the end of December 2021. Out of this national figure, more than 153,000 patients are waiting 18 months or more for an outpatient appointment, he said.

The number of outpatients waiting for their first consultant appointment in the Mid West rose sharply from 46,675 (2019) to 55,977 (2022), although Prof Lenihan said these numbers remained static between 2020 and 2021.

“As with all hospital groups across the country, the UL Hospitals Group saw an increase in its outpatient waiting list due to the pandemic particularly between 2019 and 2020 when we saw a 19.5% increase in the number of patients awaiting a first consultation; or just over 9,000 patients,” Prof Lenihan said.

The numbers waiting for 18 months or more rose from 12,109 (2019) to 20,449 (2021). However, the group said that the number of outpatient attendances in the group declined from 217,981 in 2019 to 183,855 in 2021.

“The biggest effect on waiting lists can be seen on those waiting more than 18 months for their first outpatient clinic and that’s understandable given the reduction in the number of outpatient clinics which didn't occur over the last two years due to Covid outbreaks, social and physical distancing, but when we look at the overall numbers we can see we have reached a fairly steady state, and the focus for 2022 will be those waiting more than 18 months through a number of initiatives,” said Prof Lenihan.

“Virtual clinics and telemedicine became a feature of the pandemic, with 24.4% of patients having their first consultation virtually in 2020 and 22.1% of outpatients appointments undertaken online in 2021."

He said the group took action over its longest waiting lists, including those in orthopaedics, rheumatology, dermatology and pain management, and that an additional 4,435 patients were seen in 2021 via the National Treatment Purchase fund, as well as 5,657 via the Advanced Clinical Prioritisation initiative.

These were driven by “additional recruitment of consultants, non-consultant hospital doctors, advanced nurse practitioners, clinical specialist nurses, extended scope physiotherapists, as well as clerical and administration staff”.

Today, UHL was the most overcrowded hospital in the country with 86 patients waiting on trolleys for an inpatient bed.

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