More than 30,000 patients will be taken off waiting lists this year without ever having seen a doctor, the Oireachtas health committee has been told.
The patients will be removed from outpatient waiting lists as a result of a validation exercise being conducted by the National Treatment Purchase Fund, Minister for Health Simon Harris said.
“Validation has many benefits including the identification of patients on waiting lists who are ready willing and available to proceed with hospital care, the reduction in the Did Not Attend rate and an improvement in information for managing waiting lists,” Mr Harris said. “ It is worth noting that over half a million patients do not attend their appointment each year.”
Fianna Fail health spokesman Stephen Donnelly asked whether the reduction in patients waiting for procedures from 86,000 to 72,000 in the past year was the result of more operations being carried out or a validation exercise.
HSE acting director general John Connaghan said it was "my impression" most of the fall was due to more treatments being performed.
However, some GPs have claimed validation is being used to artificially cut waiting lists. Meath GP Stephen Murphy said 28 of his patients have been “validated off” a waiting list without having been seen, and with no access to advice, investigations or treatment in secondary care.
Limerick GP Nicola Stapleton said many of her patients have received letters asking them to confirm if an appointment is still wanted. Although she returned the form, a reply stated that the appointment had been surrendered.
“Someone is massaging figures and I don’t believe it’s patients,” she tweeted last week.
At the committee, Mr Donnelly also asked whether anyone had been fired or sanctioned for the “catastrophic failures” of the health system.
“In spite of the best efforts of many and in spite of spending more money than ever before, many parts of the system are in crisis and there is a level of suffering and lack of access that we’ve never seen before,” he said.
HSE acting director general John Connaghan agreed there was a need for better personal accountability but said he was not aware at corporate level of anyone having been through disciplinary procedures this year for the issues Mr Donnelly was referring to.
Asked about the Taoiseach’s recent comments about the need for health staff not to take leave during the peak winter season, Mr Connaghan remarked: “I’m not quite sure where the Taoiseach got his impression from”.
Mr Donnelly called for an audit of hospital doctors' skill levels in the light of the comments last week by High Court president Mr Justice Peter Kelly in a case where an overseas doctor was suspended over concerns about this competence.
Mr Harris said the case showed that swift action was taken once the issue came to light.
The idea there was a widespread issue with “rogue doctors” wasn’t borne out; last year there were 300 complaints in relation to the 23,000 doctors who are registered, and three doctors were struck off.