Pandemic had ‘horrendous’ impact on efforts to cut waiting lists, says Reid

Long waiting lists the result of ‘legacy issues’ and will not be solved within one year

Covid-19 has had a "horrendous" impact on efforts to cut health service waiting lists this year, according to HSE chief executive Paul Reid.

Plans to cut waiting lists by up to one-fifth by the end of the year are "under challenge" as a result of the pandemic, he told the Oireachtas health committee.

Mr Reid said long waiting lists were not acceptable but were the result of “legacy issues” and will not be solved “within one year”. The necessary reforms and changes to patients pathways will “take time” to implement, over some years.

Recruitment figures for the health service are “encouraging” so far this year, though the HSE is not on track to recruit its target of 10,000 additional staff this year, Mr Reid told TDs. However, recruitment so far this year, at a 600 staff per month, is running at 170 over the “baseline” figure.

Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane asked whether the HSE had target dates for the implementation of Slaintecare goals such as the removal of private care from public hospitals, and for reducing waiting times.

Mr Reid replied that while the HSE was committed to their achievement, these were decisions for Government.

Mr Cullinane said the problem was there are no local or regional targets while “everyone but no-one” is responsible for national targets.

Abortion services

Eleven out of 19 maternity units are now providing abortion services, HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry told TDs. Sligo General Hospital has become the latest unit to provide terminations, and units in Cavan, Kerry and Kilkenny will provide a full service one new consultant appointments are in place, he said.

In these locations, the new consultant posts were linked to agreement on providing the service. Dr Henry said some issues remain in Letterkenny, Portlaoise, Tipperary and Wexford, where the service remains unavailable.

In smaller hospitals, the provision of termination services tends to rely on a small number of staff, and these hospitals tend to be ones with existing staffing difficulties in general.

Dr Henry said the recent discovery of hepatitis cases of unknown origin among children was a cause for concern, though cases were thankfully rare.

In Ireland, six cases have so far been identified, with another seven under investigation.

Asked about long Covid, he said one hospital had found that among patients who had been hospitalised with the virus 20 to 30 per cent were still suffering significant symptoms.

TDs paid tribute to HSE chief operations officer Anne O'Connor, who is moving to a new post in the VHI. HSE director of acute hospitals Liam Woods, meanwhile, is taking up a new position in the HSE in change of Slaintecare implementation.