Patients on waiting list up 5,000 in two months


THE NUMBER of public patients waiting more than three months for surgery at hospitals across the State has increased by more than 5,000 since the end of December, according to latest figures.

The figures, compiled by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and published on its website yesterday, show there were 26,028 adults and children waiting for inpatient and day case procedures at the end of February, up from 20,635 two months earlier.

Overall there were 454 children and 1,571 adults waiting more than 12 months for surgery at the end of February. A small number of these were waiting more than two years to be seen.

Minister for Health James Reilly described the latest figures as “disconcerting” and “worrying” and said a special delivery unit led by an international figure will be established shortly to tackle waiting lists in a similar manner to which they were tackled in Northern Ireland.

He also said there was huge scope to use capacity in our hospitals far more efficiently and smaller hospitals such as Navan could be used to treat conditions such as hernias and varicose veins rather than having patients needing these procedures attending large centres such as the Mater and Beaumont hospitals in Dublin.

Furthermore, he signalled hospital managers may be sent for training to ensure greater use is made of existing facilities, including operating theatres.

The HSE acknowledged the increase in the numbers waiting and said it was due to a number of factors, including increased emergency admissions (up 3.4 per cent) and a higher number of patients than normal having elective surgery cancelled in January due to adverse weather conditions. There had also been an increased referral rate for diagnostic endoscopes, it said.

The figures come a week after it emerged that Dublin’s three children’s hospitals were significantly underutilising their operating theatres. A review by Meridian Productivity found Temple Street and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin were using their theatres only 57 per cent of the time and the National Children’s Hospital in Tallaght had a 68 per cent utilisation. Best practice recommended an 85 per cent utilisation, according to the report. The hospitals blamed the swine flu outbreak in late 2009, at the time the review was conducted, for the fact that theatres were not running at full capacity.

Dr Reilly said yesterday, after attending the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation in Killarney, that the situation at the three hospitals had improved since the report was carried out. He said Crumlin had increased its theatre use by 12 per cent since then. “They are up to more like 75 per cent and they need to do more. Temple Street Hospital is now up at 90 per cent and Tallaght has gone up: it’s about 83 per cent,” he said.

He said not enough progress was being made, however, and he wanted more progress in this area in both the children’s and adult hospitals.

If the most expensive people in the service, such as surgeons, were not working flat out the service was losing money, he said.