Republic of Ireland news

Number of people on long-term hospital waiting lists in Republic jumps by 800% committee told

Health Minister Simon Harris said one of the challenges is to reduce the number of return hospital appointments needed. Picture by Michelle Devane/PA
Cate McCurry, Press Association

The number of people on long-term hospital waiting lists in the Republic has jumped by 800 per cent in three years, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

More than 550,000 people have been waiting to see a consultant for more than a year and a half.

Fianna Fáil's Stephen Donnelly told the health committee there was a "postcode lottery" across different areas of the health service.

He criticised access to outpatient care, adding: "Right across the system access is becoming worse and worse and worse.

"For the first time ever we have over 550,000 on the list for outpatients.

"The number waiting more than a year and a half is particularly striking. It was 13,000 about three years ago. It has gone up to over 100,000.

"That's an 800 per cent increase in just three years in the number of men, women and children waiting to see a hospital consultant.

"There's a postcode lottery going on and it's different for different parts of the system.

"Those waiting for outpatients in Galway University Hospital is over 40,000, Limerick University Hospital is nearly 35,000, Waterford is at 40,000 and Tallaght is over 30,000.

"We are seeing this postcode lottery depending on whether you need to see a doctor, or physio or OT [occupational therapist].

"Given there has been an unprecedented increase in healthcare funding – nearly €3.5 billion (£3.1bn) extra in the last few years – with this huge increase in funding, why are people waiting longer than ever to see doctors and get treatment and get diagnostics?"

Minister for Health Simon Harris said around 3.3 million people go to outpatient clinics every year.

He said one million of these are first appointments while the remainder are repeat appointments.

Mr Harris added: "One of the challenges for us is, can we reduce the number of return appointments needed to the hospital."

He said a way to fix the issue is by "significantly reducing" the number of people returning to consultants and instead seeing more patients in the community.

"About 500,000 people missed their outpatient appointment last year. People don't miss them unless they have a good reason," he said.

"If 500,000 people were offered an outpatient appointment and didn't turn up, what does that tell you about the waiting list?"

He also said the nurses' strike earlier this year had an impact on waiting lists.

Paul Reid, who was appointed director of the HSE a number of weeks ago, said the health service is continuing to deal with increased demands.

"It remains a fact that waiting times are too long," he said.

"I fully acknowledge there is a need for significant improvement in waiting times for our patients."

Mr Harris added that the country's population is "rapidly changing", which means changing healthcare needs.

He acknowledged the health service needs to "radically change" to meet the needs of the public.

Mr Reid said he visited the mortuary at University Hospital Waterford after concerns were raised by consultant pathologists about inadequate facilities.

He said he recognised the facilities are not compliant with contemporary requirements, adding that immediate interim control measures have been put in place while additional refrigeration capacity has also been made available.

"In acknowledging the issues and concerns expressed by the staff, a review of the mortuary services is now planned," he said.

"This is to include a review of existing mortuary facilities and the terms of reference are currently being finalised and it proposed the final report will be available in September 2019."

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