Almost 542,000 patients waiting to be seen by a specialist for the first time

Minister for Health criticised by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil as latest waiting list figures reach new high

Almost 542,000 patients are waiting to be seen by a specialist for the first time, according to latest figures, as another 20,000 people were added to outpatient queues last month. Photograph: iStock

Almost 542,000 patients are waiting to be seen by a specialist for the first time, according to latest figures, as another 20,000 people were added to outpatient queues last month. Photograph: iStock

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has been accused of failing more than a half a million people who are in pain around the country as hospital waiting lists reached yet another record high.

Almost 542,000 patients are waiting to be seen by a specialist for the first time, according to latest figures, as another 20,000 people were added to outpatient queues last month.

Of those, more than 216,500 have been waiting for more than nine months, and almost 100,000 have still not had a first appointment after a year and a half.

When the number of people awaiting outpatient appointments in public hospitals rose to a new record of more than 523,000 at the end of January, Mr Harris said it was a period which coincided with the HSE managing emergency department pressures over the peak winter period. He also said industrial action by nurses over pay and retention issues which resulted in the cancellation of elective procedures was also undoubtedly reflected in the figures.

However Louise O’Reilly, Sinn Féin’s health spokeswoman, said on Saturday the increasing waiting lists could not be blamed on three days of nurse strikes in January and February, but are part of a pattern that has been going on for years.

“Obviously some procedures would have been cancelled or held over to the following day (because of the strike), but that was three days compared to the previous 362 days the Minister is in charge and responsible and failing,” she said.

“An extra 20,000 people cannot be attributed to the nurses strike.”

Ms O’Reilly said behind every single figure was a person who was worried and in pain.

“Whether it is a hip replacement, an operation, eye surgery, these are people lying awake every night worrying about the care they can’t access,” she said.

“I talked to a man in Rush (Co Dublin) last week, who is waiting to have cataract surgery, but he can’t drive now because his eyesight has deteriorated so much and he is stuck at home.

“Simon Harris is incompetent and his incompetence means more than half a million people are waiting in pain for procedures. ”

‘A challenge’

The figures just published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) also show more than 71,000 patients are facing delays for inpatient care or day case treatment.

Ms O’Reilly said the figures show an urgent need for money to be spent on recruiting more staff and opening more hospital beds.

“They are also proof that the government’s policies are failing,” she said.

“Having observed the Minster for Health and this government at close quarters, they are not meaningfully addressing the cause of the waiting list.

“That is lack of capacity and until they put that capacity in they are not going to be able to resolve this problem.

“It means recruiting more staff, opening more hospital beds and they are not doing that.”

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said the latest outpatient waiting list figures make for grim reading.

Province

“It’s important though to put these numbers into perspective so that we get the real picture. There are now 541,899 people waiting for an appointment with a consultant. That’s almost equal to the population of Connacht at around 550,000,” he said.

“164,644 of these are waiting over a year and within that 99,433 have been waiting since summer 2017 at least. If you want to see the scale of that, take a look at the Aviva stadium this (Sunday) afternoon. We would need three Aviva stadiums to fit in all those waiting over a year,” he added.

“This is clearly a crisis yet we see no initiative from Minister Harris. We are still waiting for an action plan on waiting lists for this year. The promised plan for outpatients in 2018 never materialised. There is no sense of urgency. When the numbers waiting for an appointment is set to surpass the population of a province surely it’s time for the Minister to take action.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said a 1 per cent reduction in the numbers queuing for inpatient day cases since January showed “some recovery”.

“Outpatient waiting list figures continue to remain a challenge this year,” she added.

“In 2018, through the collaboration of the Health Service Executive and the NTPF considerable improvements were made to reducing waiting times for patients.

“The Scheduled Care Access Plan for 2019 is due to be published early next week. The plan will ensure an appropriate balance between high volume activities and offering treatment to complex long-waiting patients and will set out commitments aimed at improving access for patients waiting for hospital operations or procedures, as well as patients waiting for a first outpatient appointment.”