Documentary on hospital waiting lists ‘hard to watch,’ Taoiseach says

Simon Harris says health service decision making and not funding to blame for issue

The RTÉ Investigates: Living on the List documentary reveals the number of patients waiting for operations or medical procedures is much higher than the numbers on the waiting lists published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund. Video: RTÉ


The Government cannot stand over the waiting lists for medical treatment revealed in a TV documentary on Monday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said.

“I found it difficult to watch the programme, but it is very necessary that these programmes and people’s stories in 2017 be heard,” he added.

Mr Kenny said the Minister for Health’s function, on the Government’s behalf, was to set the overall policy and strategy on healthcare and provide funding.

Responding to Opposition questions on the RTÉ Prime Time Investigates programme, Mr Kenny told the Dáil on Tuesday the big question relating to scoliosis treatment was the lack of theatre capacity.

He added that €3 million was found to provide for a theatre in Crumlin hospital in Dublin but it was still not open.

Mr Kenny said Minister for Health Simon Harris would meet with the hospital chief executive and health agencies later in the day. “He wants to make it clear the scoliosis issue is an absolute priority here,” he added.

He said the opening of a new theatre was dependent on the recruitment of adequately trained staff, and there were exceptional efforts to recruit staff.

The Taoiseach said €900 million more had gone into the health system this year compared to last year.

Management decisions

Mr Harris has said that long waiting lists in the health system were caused by health service management decisions and not a lack of funding. He told RTÉ that it comes back to making sure clinicians are empowered to make decisions.

“It is too simple to reduce it to an issue of funding,” he said. “It is principally about the management of resources. It is about the HSE who are in charge of operations. They are the ones responsible for delivering our health service.”

Mr Harris said that when people don’t live up to their responsibilities to implement important plans, that they will be removed from their roles.

The Minister said that waiting lists are not just an Irish phenomenon and that National Treatment Purchase Fund adhered to international best practice.

“In the past it may have been about the money, but it is not about the money now.

“We have a situation in CUMH (Cork University Maternity Hospital) where they have the longest waiting list for obstetrics in the country,” he said.

“If they have the longest waiting list, they face similar economic problems in Cork as elsewhere – so what is happening down there?

“It is coming back to making sure that you empower clinicians to make decisions. It is too simple to just reduce it to an issue of funding.”

‘Badly managed’

Professor Paud O’Regan, a consultant physician at South Tipperary General Hospital in Clonmel, said the health system was about 2,000 beds short which was leading to delayed cases. He said the end result was the stories heard in the Prime Time Investigates on documentary on Monday night.

“International statistics might suggest that enough money is being put into the system, but it is being extremely badly managed,” he said.

Prof O’Regan denied that consultants were not always available because they were occupied with their private practices. He said consultants were always available but they were not been given the opportunity to look after patients properly.

A surgeon who specialises in scoliosis surgery at Crumlin children’s hospital called for the state of the art operating theatre at the hospital to be available five days week.

Dr Pat Kiely, a surgeon specialising in scoliosis, said he operates on patients three days a week but believes there is an “urgent need” to increase theatre time to five days a week.

“We just don’t have the staff to operate five days a week. We should be able to operate five days a week to get rid of the backlog,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke. “We know that we should be operating on 200 young people per year. We managed to hit 120 last year, but we need to be doing this every year in a focused and dedicated manner.”

‘Road blocks’

Dr Derek Bennett, an orthopaedic surgeon at Mayo general hospital, called for a more strategic approach to how problems are looked at in the health service.

“The problems will not be solved by throwing money. We should be looking at getting value for money. We need to target money at specific road blocks,” he told the same programme.

“There are well trained specialists available, but we have to make working here more attractive. It’s not about money, it’s about services, support staff, theatre time, beds - the assets needed to work...We have produced some of the best health care professionals in the world and exported them.”