Almost 350,000 waiting for outpatient appointment
Latest HSE figures show a deficit of €162 million in five months to end of May
A hospital outpatient waiting room: the total number on outpatient lists in Irish hospitals at the end of last year was 300,752, but they reached 343,412 in May. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times
Almost 350,000 people are waiting for an outpatient appointment, according to the latest figures from the Health Service Executive (HSE). The figures, which show the HSE recorded a €162 million deficit in the five months to the end of May, underline the task facing new Minister for Health Leo Varadkar. One hospital, University Hospital Limerick, is more than €11 million over budget.
Outpatient waiting lists have grown for five consecutive months after recording a sharp drop at the end of 2013, the HSE’s performance assurance report for May shows. The total on outpatient lists at the end of last year was 300,752, but they reached 343,412 in May.
Although no one is supposed to be waiting more than 12 months for an outpatient appointment, the number of such “long-waiters” has soared from 4,937 at the end of last year to 22,746 at the end of April and 28,185 in May. The numbers waiting between one and two years for an outpatient appointment increased from 3,990 at the end of last year to 25,936 by the end of May. The numbers waiting between two and four years for an appointment jumped from 903 to 2,207.
There are 28,161 people on University Hospital Galway’s outpatient waiting list, 28,012 at Tallaght Hospital, and 20,719 at Beaumont Hospital. Just four adult patients were waiting more than eight months for inpatient/day-case treatment at the end of 2013, but this figure grew to 5,278 at the end of May.
The number of children waiting over the target time of 20 weeks for inpatient and day-case operations and treatments increased from 193 at the end of last year to 1,086 at the end of May. Over the same period, the number of patients waiting for referral for a routine colonoscopy jumped from 96 to 2,018.
The State’s hospitals overspent their budgets by more than €100 million in the first five months of the year, according to the report. The €104.7 million deficit in the acute hospital sector represented 62 per cent of the HSE overall deficit of €162 million at the end of May. Limerick Regional Hospital was €11.22 million, or 18 per cent, over budget. Waterford Regional recorded a deficit of €6.4 million and Sligo General Hospital overspent by €4.97 million. In Dublin the biggest offenders were St Vincent’s Hospital (€6.27 million over budget), Beaumont (€3.8 million) and Tallaght (€3.1 million).
The report says the HSE is not flagging any new financial risks beyond those set out in the service plan at the start of the year. “However, it should be noted that the financial risks include a number of items which are not within or are not fully within the control of the HSE.”
The HSE is expected to record a deficit of more than €500 million by the end of the year, making a supplementary budget inevitable. Among the reasons for the swelling deficit are a huge increase in agency costs for locum doctors, pension issues and the late or non-implementation of measures aimed at saving money.
The number of patients waiting on trolleys in hospital emergency departments has fallen 9 per cent since the start of the year, in spite of a 1.6 per cent increase in emergency admissions.