More than 45,000 people were removed from outpatient waiting lists without ever seeing a medical specialist last year.
Just under half of these requested to be taken off the hospital outpatient waiting list as part of an official exercise to check whether they still required a medical specialist consultation – suggesting that about 24,000 names were removed after failing to respond to letters sent out as part of this process.
New figures show that there was a major intensification of the waiting list validation process in the second half of last year carried out by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).
In January last year just over 420 people were removed from outpatient waiting lists.
In May the number had increased to more than 4,000, and in June there were over 5,700 people removed from the outpatient waiting list.
The Government has said better validation will mean other patients get seen quicker, and will reduce the number of no-shows for appointments.
Overall more than 236,000 people on outpatient waiting lists were contacted as part of the validation process last year.
Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients Association said he had no issue with patients being removed from waiting lists on their own request, but he had “concerns” over cases where they were taken off the list for failing to respond to validation letters.
“We have to be sure every hospital is adhering to NTPF guidelines,” he said, adding that some patients were waiting so long to be seen that they ended up having to go to hospital emergency departments for treatment.
Tramore GP Austin Byrne said the “main problem” was with patients getting removed from waiting lists for failing to respond to letters. However, the NTPF had streamlined the process to “good effect” since it took over validation from hospitals in 2018, and the “big push” to remove patients from lists appeared to be over, he added.
Dublin GP Ray Walley said some patients struggled to engage with the validation process, and “there could be a bit more humanity in it”.
The NTPF said it worked to deliver shorter waiting times for consultant appointments and surgery.
It said as part of the process patients were written to in order to confirm they still required hospital care, and if they did not respond a second letter was then sent.
“If the patient fails to respond to the second letter or requests removal the patient’s hospital is informed. Following review by the hospital, where appropriate a decision is then taken whether to remove the patient from the waiting list in compliance with national protocols.”
GPs are also informed, and patients can be placed back on the list for the original date.
Details of the scale of the numbers removed from the waiting lists for outpatient appointments come as the outgoing Government has maintained – accurately – that the numbers queueing to see a medical specialist are falling for the first time in a number of years.
The number of patients waiting for an outpatient appointment fell in December by 10,000, the biggest single-month drop seen in several years. The NTPF figures show the validation process was a major contributor to this reduction.
There were 553,434 outpatients on the waiting list at the end of the month, according to figures released by the NTPF earlier this month.