Patients waiting six months for certain surgeries to be treated this year

National Treatment Purchase Fund pledges to cut waiting lists for common procedures

Paddy McMahon, from Ballinacurra in Limerick, is one of 1,400 patients who will have received a cataract operation at Nenagh Hospital by the end of this year.

Every patient waiting more than six months for surgery across 10 common procedures – including cataracts, joint replacements and tonsillectomies – will be offered treatment by the end of the year, according to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

The fund says it has made significant inroads into inpatient waiting lists for many common procedures, with the numbers of patients waiting more than six months down 72 per cent over the past two years.

The waiting list for the most common inpatient procedure – cataract operations – is down 88 per cent, it says.

Paddy McMahon, from Ballinacurra in Limerick, for example, is one of 1,400 patients who will have received a cataract operation at Nenagh Hospital by the end of this year.


Mr McMahon was moved to write a letter of appreciation to the hospital after his procedure last August.

“The operation itself went very well and I was discharged on the same day, having spent some time in recovery,” he told a conference in Limerick this week.

With the benefit of NTPF funding, Nenagh has been made a centre for cataract surgery. Since a new theatre opened in July of last year, the number of patients waiting longer than 12 months has decreased from 134 to 21.

Investing heavily

The Government is investing heavily in the NTPF – €75 million this year and €100 million next year – in an effort to reduce the public inpatient waiting list and, to a lesser extent, the number of patients waiting for outpatient appointments. This approach is supported by Fianna Fáil, which set up the NTPF in 2004.

While more than 1,000 different procedures are carried out in Irish hospitals, in 2017 the 10 most common surgeries accounted for half of all patients waiting six months or more. The figure has now fallen to 23 per cent.

Over this period, the number of patients waiting more than six months has fallen from 20,000 to 5,600.

However, because of increasing numbers of patients coming onto the waiting lists, the overall drop in the inpatient list this year has been relatively modest – from 70,500 to 68,000.

NTPF chief executive Liam Sloyan said its mission was to make as big an impact as possible on waiting times for patients.

In the first nine months of the year, 14,386 patients waiting for treatment for one of the high-volume procedures have accepted an offer of treatment. This includes 6,225 cataract operations, 2,399 cystoscopies and 1,627 hip and knee replacements.

Gastrointestinal tests

In addition, the fund has paid for more than 17,000 gastrointestinal tests this year, at a cost of between €2.5 million and €3 million, to help relieve the pressure on public hospital waiting lists.

The fund does not disclose the payments it makes to hospitals for procedures carried out on patients, citing the need for commercial confidentiality. However, Mr Sloyan says the costs involved represent value for money and are “inside” industry norms.

While the NTPF works increasingly with public hospitals, two-thirds of its work is still in the private hospital sector. Procedures are carried out at 18 hospitals that successfully tendered to carry out work and were put on a panel of service providers.

Mr Sloyan says doctors are not funded for patients from their own public lists “except in exceptional circumstances”.

Doctors carrying out NTPF work must be on the specialist register of the Medical Council or, in public hospitals, working in consultant posts under appropriate supervision.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.