Concrete evidence of the cumulative effects of cutbacks to the health service is evident from the report in this newspaper that some 75,000 hospital appointments were cancelled in the past three years. The figures mean that a substantial number of people who required a defined procedure, operation or therapy did not receive it in a timely manner. The cancellations mean that patients who have distressing symptoms such as pain and loss of mobility will have had their hopes of definitive treatment dashed. At the very least it represents an additional stress for the person who must now build up to hospital admission a second time; for carers and those who transport these patients to hospital it is also disruptive.
The HSE has said the cancellations represent the effects of closing wards for cost-containment measures and a lack of capacity caused by emergency admissions. Its candour is welcome but the specific mention of capacity must now raise the issue of whether there are sufficient hospital beds and frontline staff to cope with both elective and emergency admissions. That Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children accounted for almost 19,000 cancellations in the three years suggests children are being disproportionately affected .
However, these latest figures do not represent the full story. As of July this year almost 340,000 people were waiting for consultant outpatient appointments in our public hospitals – yet another indication of a system under colossal strain. Of these some 16,800 were waiting for longer than four years. But in July alone some 10,520 patients did not attend their first outpatient appointment while over 24,000 people did not attend second or subsequent scheduled appointments. These figures represent over 15 per cent of the available hospital outpatient appointments each month. By not turning up, patients are contributing to a significant level of waste in an already overstretched health system. Both the system and its users can do better.