Waiting times for a number of common procedures in Irish hospitals are longer than previously believed and are among the worst in a comparison of 17 OECD countries, according to a new report.
A study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) found waiting times for public patients in Ireland for three common operations – hip replacement, knee replacement and cataract surgery – compare less favourably with other countries than previous results indicated.
The ESRI used data from the National Treatment Purchase Fund to calculate the number of days a patient had waited from their addition to a waiting list to their admission to hospital.
The ESRI said previous statistics usually measured how long people currently on the waiting list had been waiting but that such a method provided an incomplete picture.
The latest results also allow for easier comparisons with other OECD countries and show that Ireland fares comparatively worse under the new assessment method.
They reveal that patients in public hospitals in Ireland who have had hip replacements have the third-longest wait out of 17 countries.
On average, Irish patients waited 182 days for hip-replacement surgery compared with the OECD average of 116 days.
Ireland was also ranked the third worst for cataract surgery with an average waiting time of 167 days compared with the OECD average of 97 days.
Irish patients had the fourth-longest wait for knee replacements – 243 days in contrast to the OECD average of 192 days.
The report said the new figures showed a large proportion of patients who had a procedure in 2018 had waited for more than 12 months for treatment, ranging from 16 per cent of those receiving a hip replacement to 23 per cent who had a knee replacement.
It said the new measure of calculating waiting times showed an increase in average waiting times over previous figures of 10-80 per cent depending on procedure.
While the report acknowledged international comparisons were difficult, it noted that the UK’s National Health Service was commonly used as a benchmark for the Irish healthcare system.
“In this analysis, Ireland’s waiting times were found to be substantially longer than those in the UK,” it said.
The report added: “Identifying the reason for the discrepancy in waits between Ireland and the UK, despite relatively similar systems, may provide important clues for reducing long waits in the Irish context.”
It said information on waiting times for elective surgery would also be useful for patients who had the right to seek treatment abroad due to delays in accessing healthcare in Ireland.
The report warned that long waiting times may mean the proposed treatment may be less effective for patients whose condition deteriorates while waiting.
“Given that Ireland currently has a relatively young age profile, it is likely that demand for hospital services [and potentially waits] will increase in line with the ageing of the population. Consequently, there is an urgent need to address these waits in Ireland,” the report said.
ESRI researchers said it was unknown what impact private patients using both public and private hospitals had on waiting times.
The report criticised the current lack of accurate data in the Irish healthcare system, which affected the ability to set targets for waiting times for treatment.
It claimed small changes to hospital records could rectify the situation as well as the rollout of long-awaited plans for the unique patient number known as the Individual Health Identifier.
The ESRI said reporting current waiting times was particularly relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic as many normal hospital procedures had been suspended last summer which had resulted in increased waiting times.