A new plan to deal with hospital waiting lists has resulted in a “large decrease” in patients waiting more than a year for treatment, according to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
He said the number of patients waiting more than 12 months for a specialist appointment had dropped by almost 25 per cent in the year to date “which is a large decrease”.
“The number of patients waiting more than 12 months for an outpatient appointment has fallen by nearly 40 per cent of the Covid peak in March 2021 and the number waiting more than six months for a procedure has fallen by a third since September 2020.”
Mr Donnelly was responding during Dáil question time to Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane who asked when the multiannual plan, promised some time ago, would be presented.
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The Minister stressed that there were now three-year waiting list plans. A great deal of effort went into waiting lists in October to December last year resulting in a 5 per cent reduction, he said.
But the multiannual plan, including provisions for this year, focuses “on long waiters in order to meet the Sláintecare targets”.
The €350 million investment for this year mainly focuses on hospital waiting lists but also makes an investment in community waiting lists.
In October however the Minister acknowledged that the €350 million allocated for waiting lists this year would not be spent, because of the Covid-19 Omicron wave and the difficulty in meeting staff hiring targets.
In the budget €443 million been allocated next year for waiting lists.
Mr Cullinane acknowledged a reduction in the numbers of people waiting over a year but “the overall waiting lists are still too high”. He had been calling for the National Purchase Treatment Fund to publish all waiting lists, when it only currently publishes acute hospital waiting lists.
“It would be better if community, diagnostic, mental health, children’s disability network team and other specialised waiting lists were published so we could capture what is happening,” he said.
Mr Donnelly agreed that “we need a single consolidated waiting list view” but it required electronic patient records to achieve this.
“Many patients are on many different waiting lists and they all get counted as individual patients. We are making a significant investment in e-health and electronic patient records.”
Mr Donnelly later told Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton that this year’s action plan was focused on reducing lists exacerbated by the pandemic
But he said that despite significant challenges “many individual hospitals have delivered impressive reductions in both waiting lists and waiting times”.
He said the €443 million for next year will be used to “sustainably enhance capacity in all hospitals and specialities, in particular for the priority areas of gynaecology, Spina Bifida/Scoliosis, and obesity/bariatrics”.