New taskforce to tackle growing hospital waiting lists

Minister seeks millions in funding for team focused on bringing down wait times

According to data published earlier this month, there are more than 900,000 people on a hospital waiting list in the State. Photograph: Frank Miller

According to data published earlier this month, there are more than 900,000 people on a hospital waiting list in the State. Photograph: Frank Miller

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A taskforce modelled on the team that led the Covid-19 vaccination rollout is to be charged with seeing through a plan, to cost hundreds of millions of euro over the coming years, that aims to bring down healthcare waiting lists.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is to establish the taskforce in the coming weeks, with the membership to be drawn from the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

The Minister is understood to have put in a funding request for a budgetary allocation of hundreds of millions of euro to pay for the multi-year plan. It will aim to bring waiting lists in line with the maximum times set out in the Sláintecare healthcare reform strategy of 10 weeks for outpatients and 12 weeks for inpatient day cases.

A shorter-term waiting list plan designed to address the impact of Covid-19 and the cyberattack on the HSE will be put in place for the rest of this year.

The taskforce will set targets for waiting list reductions and monitor compliance in meeting them.

Work on the waiting list plan has been under way in the Department of Health for several months. Mr Donnelly has consulted external parties and will feed their views to the taskforce.

The Minister plans to bring a memo to Government shortly on the provision of three new elective hospitals in Dublin, Cork and Galway, which the Government hopes will contribute to reducing waiting times for elective surgery.

According to data published earlier this month, there are more than 900,000 people on a hospital waiting list in the State. Figures from the NTPF show 907,617 people are on a list awaiting treatment or assessment by a consultant, an increase of 66,167 people since the same time last year.

Doctors’ groups have warned that the numbers will soon top 1 million, and while the Sláintecare plan sets out methods to deliver timely access to care, waiting lists have continued to grow since it was launched in 2017.

Issues brought about by Covid-19 and the HSE cyberattack have caused further delays as the volumes of patients being seen for scheduled procedures dipped significantly as the health service reeled from the impact of both issues.

Elsewhere, the Cabinet will today consider the mid-term review of the national drugs strategy, which is being worked on by Minister of State for Public Health Frank Feighan.

The review is understood to find that of 50 actions in the strategy, 25 have either been delivered on in full or are broadly on track. Another 20 actions are progressing but with a minor or major issue.

The remaining five are to be carried forward into the next action plan. The review finds that, overall, the strategy has allowed for improved collaboration between departments and agencies.

However, it finds some areas designed to provide oversight and co-ordination to the drugs strategy are not working as well as intended, due to a duplication in the membership of the structures, insufficient attendance and/or participation.

The Cabinet will be told that consideration also needs to be given to the varying the needs of groups and tailoring services to suit an individual’s needs.