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Health service must change to meet increasing demands

The latest waiting time figures released by the Department of Health provide further evidence of the significant pressures faced by our hospitals and wider healthcare system.

According to statistics in relation to outpatients up to March 31 this year, a total of 288,754 people were waiting for a first consultant-led appointment, seven per cent more than the previous year.

Ministerial targets say that at least 50 per cent of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment. However, this target was completely missed with three quarters of patients waiting longer than nine weeks.

Even worse, almost 98,000 patients waited over a year for an appointment, an increase of more than 14,000 on the previous year.

The draft ministerial target on the reporting of urgent diagnostic tests within two days was also missed.

The Department of Health knows that these figures are not good and has issued a statement reiterating that sustained investment is needed to address the waiting list backlog.

It points out that with budgets stretched to maintain existing services, 'funding to suppress waiting time growth has been in limited supply.'

It is possible to detect some frustration within the health department at the current unacceptable state of affairs - feelings that will be shared by the rest of us.

As well as funding to address our appalling waiting lists, reform is urgently needed so we have a system that can deal efficiently and effectively with the demands of an ageing population.

Some changes are already under way, including the establishment of specialist units for cataracts and varicose veins with plans to transfer thousands of other routine day surgeries to dedicated care centres.

Faced with enormous challenges, our system cannot simply stand still but must evolve and progress to meet future requirements.

Ultimately, tough decisions will have to be taken and that will require a minister with the resolve to tackle our many problems.

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