Waiting lists would fall with fewer referrals by GPs, says Varadkar

Taoiseach says two fewer outpatients per GP per week would free up hospital capacity

Minister for Health Simon Harris with Rachel Flynn of Hiqa: the National Patient Experience Survey 2017 found most patients rated their stay in hospital to be good or very good.  Photograph: Julien Behal

Minister for Health Simon Harris with Rachel Flynn of Hiqa: the National Patient Experience Survey 2017 found most patients rated their stay in hospital to be good or very good. Photograph: Julien Behal

 

If each general practitioner referred two fewer patients to hospitals per week it would lead to a fall in waiting lists for outpatient appointments and procedures without the provision of additional capacity, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

Speaking at the launch of the new patient experience survey report on Monday he said GPs would first need access to diagnostics and other facilities which they do not have available to them at present.

He said there were about 2,500 GPs in the country and if each referred two fewer patients, it would mean 20,000 patients per month fewer going to hospitals.

Mr Varadkar said it was right that the recent budget provided record funding of about €15 billion for the health service next year as there were more people living in the country than there had been in over a century and the population was ageing.

However, he said it was evident other countries that spent less on health and had similar amounts of staff “do better in terms of access”.

“We certainly have a long way to go before we can achieve the health service that we believe people deserve.”

The Taoiseach said the increased budget should be able to reduce waiting times as well.

Progress needed

He said it was good to see waiting lists for hip operations, cataracts and other hospital procedures had fallen for the fourth month in a row. However, he acknowledged “we are not making as much progress in relation to outpatient waiting lists”.

Official figures released last Friday showed there were almost 500,000 queuing for an out-patient appointment with a hospital consultant. The Taoiseach said the next decade “must be about reform as well as resources”.

Mr Varadkar said while the patient experience survey highlighted the many positive aspects of the country’s health service, it also pointed to the need for further reform.

“The Sláintecare report, agreed earlier this year by the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, sets out a 10-year vision for the health service.

“We will see, for example, a greater emphasis on integrated care. We want to develop the capacity for GPs and primary care practitioners to deliver services in the community, rather than continuing to rely on our public hospitals to such an extent.

“Sláintecare also looks to enhance the clinical governance arrangements in the health service to ensure accountability for all aspects of the patient’s care.”

Hospital variation

Speaking at the same event, Minister for Health Simon Harris said it should be noted the new survey found that, overall, most patients rated their stay in hospital to be either good or very good.

However, he said one of the lessons to be learned from the survey was the variation in the performance of different hospitals. He said some of the country’s hospitals were performing much better than others.

“By having this data [from the patient survey], when you listen to the voices of patients in so many different hospitals, it provides us with an opportunity to identify what is best practice; to ask why is this happening in this hospital and why don’t we make it the norm in other hospitals.

“All hospital managers are not the same. All hospitals are not the same. We need to recognise and acknowledge good practice and demand more of it right across the health service.”