Leo Varadkar targets 15-month waiting limit for treatment

Health minister’s HSE priorities list for 2015 includes National Maternity Hospital plans

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has published a list of 25 priorities for the HSE in 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has published a list of 25 priorities for the HSE in 2015. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has published a list of 25 priorities for the health service in 2015, which includes a promise that no patient will be waiting more than 15 months for hospital treatment by the end of the year.

Mr Varadkar has also committed himself to reducing long trolley waits, with a target of cutting the number of patients waiting for admission to hospital for over nine hours by one-third, to less than 70.

As an interim target, no patient will be on a hospital waiting list for more than 18 months by the summer, he says.

Emergency department and trolley waits will be cut by reducing the number of delayed discharges in hospital by one-third, to 500.

Mr Varadkar and his Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch, say the priorities will provide a clear direction for the development of the health service against which progress can be made. The Ministers have also published a more detailed list of priorities for 2015-17 which includes a plan to extend free GP care to the rest of the population after it is provided to under-6s and over-70s this year.

No commitment is given to implement the Government policy of Universal Health Insurance (UHI) in this timeframe. Mr Varadkar says he will “scope” UHI by completing a costing analysis and reverting to Government with a “roadmap” for the next steps.

The priorities for this year also include new legislation to reduce alcohol consumption, proposals to extend the remit of the Health Information Quality Authority, extending the range of services available in primary care, moves to increase the number of people with health insurance and the first national survey of Ireland’s health in eight years.

Long waiters

The main item is the plan to address waiting lists by focusing on long waiters. Mr Varadkar says no-one will be waiting longer than 18 months for in-patient and daycase treatment or an outpatient appointment by the summer. He says the time will reduce to 15 months.

The commitment is likely to place further pressure on health expenditure, which is already running over budget as a result of the trolley crisis this month.

The target is a modest one, given the former minister for health James Reilly promised no-one would have to wait more than 12 months for an appointment, and later reduced this target to nine months.

Under Dr Reilly, some inroads were made into waiting lists thanks to extra funding. Once this money ran out, the numbers on waiting lists started to shoot up again.

Also on Mr Varadkar’s plan for the year is a new package of measures to increase the number of people with private health insurance cover.

The minister’s priorities for this year include the submission of a planning application for the new National Maternity Hospital on the St Vincent’s Hospital campus, getting hospital groups up and running and extending and implementing the national clinical effectiveness guidelines.

Mr Varadkar will prioritise access for GPs to scans and other diagnostic services and he says he will improve the way patients access primary care by supporting new models for managing chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and arthritis.