Varadkar does not ‘set much store’ in emergency care report

Report listed Ireland worst in Europe for emergency treatment waiting times

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar at the announcement of 5 Milllion Euro funding for the Health Innovation Hub. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar at the announcement of 5 Milllion Euro funding for the Health Innovation Hub. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times


Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said he would not “set too much store” by a new report that says waiting times for emergency treatment in Irish hospitals are the worst in Europe.

The Euro Health Consumer Index also found waiting times for minor operations and CT scans were among the longest of 35 countries surveyed.

Mr Varadkar said he has no doubt Ireland doesn’t compare well with other countries on waiting times to see an emergency department consultant and this was being addressed through the appointment of additional consultants.

He pointed out the index was drawn up by a private Swedish company, Health Consumer Powerhouse, “which has nothing to do with the EU or the World Health Organisation”.

Overall, the Irish health system ranks 21st in the 2015 Euro Health Consumer Index, up one place from 2014 but down from 14th in 2013.

Lower-income countries such as Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia all rank ahead of Ireland in the index, which is led by the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The report analyses the performance of national healthcare systems across 48 indicators, including patient rights, access to care, treatment outcomes, range of services and use of pharmaceuticals.

Mr Varadkar said it gives countries bonus points if they perform “lots of abortions” and counts being able to book a GP online as important to surviving a stroke, “so it needs to be taken for what it is”.

He pointed out Ireland has gone up 30 points in the index since last year and one place in the ranking.

“In 2006, Ireland was second from bottom in Europe after four years of Micheál Martin as Minister for Health.”

With severe overcrowding persisting in emergency departments at the moment, the Minister is to bring a package of additional measure to Cabinet to tackle high trolley numbers. This is expected to include contracting beds in private hospitals to deal with the crisis.

There are 517 patients on trolleys in emergency departments and on wards awaiting admission to a hospital bed, according to figures released on Tuesday by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

It said there were 38 patients on trolleys in the emergency department at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin as well as four other patients on wards waiting for a bed.

The INMO said there were 32 patients on trolleys in the emergency department at Cork University Hospital and 10 more on wards.

It said there were 30 patients on trolleys in the emergency department in the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

Waiting times

In the Euro Health Consumer Index, Ireland scores particularly badly on access to health services, based on feedback provided by patient organisations. Waiting times are found to be “frequently more than three hours” more often here than anywhere else in Europe.

The report is being published today as overcrowding in emergency departments continues to place the health service under strain.

The HSE said 391 patients were on trolleys yesterday morning, of whom 210 had been waiting over nine hours.

The index ranks Ireland second worst in Europe for direct access to a specialist, without GP referral.

We come fourth last for non-acute operations carried out within 90 days and for the number of cataract operations performed, and eighth lowest for the proportion of non-acute CT scans carried out within a week.

Ireland also ranks worst in Europe for binge drinking and is third from the bottom in terms of the number of hours of physical activity in schools.

However, our smoking rates are among the lowest and Ireland is rated highly for access to essential drugs.

The report also praises the “real improvement” and “dedicated effort” involved in halving the rate of MRSA infection in Ireland between 2008 and 2015.

The fact that Ireland has the highest percentage of population purchasing duplicate healthcare insurance “presents a problem”.

The report questions whether this should be interpreted as an “extreme case of dissatisfaction” with the public system or one prompted by tax issues.

The report says Ireland no longer has a total abortion ban after the introduction of the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act in 2013, but adds this was a “very minor step”.