Patients wait 2.4 months for operations


The national median waiting time for patients seeking operations in Irish hospitals stood at 2.4 months in December, the Public Accounts Committee heard today.

National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) chief executive Pat O’Byrne told the committee that outpatient appointments were one of the “bottlenecks” in the public hospital system.

He said it was necessary to call almost double the number of patients that “one actually wishes to provide treatment for”.

Mr O’Byrne said 82,144 patients were contacted with an offer of an outpatient appointment in the last five years but almost half did not want an appointment, did not know they were on a waiting list or were removed from the waiting list by their hospital.

The NTPF arranges treatment in private hospitals for those public patients waiting more than three months on a public hospital waiting list.

The committee was told that in 225 cases last year, consultants who had no time to treat patients in public hospitals ended up taking the same patients off waiting lists by treating them privately when paid by the fund.

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming told the committee he was concerned about the decision of VHI to increase charges by up to 45 per cent for some customers.

He said the insurer should be made to reveal how much it pays for procedures, which VHI describes as commercially sensitive information.

Mr Fleming said that the NTPF should “take over” the running of VHI as it was able to get better prices and was not seeking a 45 per cent increase in its funding.

Department of Health secretary general Michael Scanlan told the committee that the “absence of a good financial management system” in the HSE was a deficit to the health service.

Replying to Fine Gael TD Michael D’Arcy, who asked if the HSE was providing data to the department early enough to allow emerging problems to be detected, Mr Scanlan said “it needs to be better”.

He said there were 11 data systems in use in the HSE and that finding information about the numbers employed in particular care programmes was quite complicated because of this.

“At corporate level [the HSE] has difficulty getting behind data because of the management system,” Mr Scanlan said.

Mr D’Arcy had earlier said that it could be perceived that the department had been able to shift responsibility for providing information for parliamentary questions to the HSE.