Unit shows 350,000 on outpatient waiting lists


UP TO 350,000 people are estimated to be waiting for first outpatient appointments to see consultants at public hospitals throughout the State, the Department of Health has said.

Briefing on the work of the special delivery unit (SDU), set up to tackle hospital waiting times, Dr Martin Connor, consultant at the Department of Health, said the figure of between 325,000 and 350,000 was a “best estimate”.

Live monitoring would be in place for outpatient figures by the end of July and would provide exact figures, he said.

The numbers are up to 150,000 higher than statistics recently revealed by the Health Service Executive. Earlier this month, the HSE performance reports showed almost 205,000 people on hospital outpatient waiting lists. But data for some hospitals was unavailable at the time.

Dr Connor said tackling outpatient wait times was “every bit as important” as dealing with waiting time for surgery. The new figures represented a “significant challenge” but were “not without hope”.

The major problem for patients at the moment was “the inordinate amount of time” spent waiting, he said. He had received reports of people waiting four, five and six years to be seen, he said, though they could not verify length of waits until final figures were available.

He said tackling the outpatient lists presented two difficulties – getting patients seen by consultants as quickly as possible and treating those who might need day or inpatient care. They would have to develop capability, he said, and there would be “a significant consequence” from dealing with the outpatient backlog.

Dr Connor also pointed out that some of the 350,000 people waiting could be on lists for more than one hospital.

He said hospitals had high rates of non-attendance at appointments which ran to “tens of thousands”. This could be addressed by changing the way outpatient appointments were allocated. Instead of writing to patients with a fixed appointment, a letter would instead invite them to ring and arrange one. This system had proven to have a much higher attendance rate, he said, and would take two to three years to implement.

Dr Connor also said the numbers of people waiting on trolleys in emergency departments had been reduced. On June 15th this year, 268 people were waiting on trolleys compared to 354 last year. The figure for the year to date was just under 35,000 compared to just over 43,000 in 2011.

Dublin North East and Dublin Mid-Leinster accounted for more than 60 per cent of the numbers on trolleys in the first half of the year, Dr Connor said.

The numbers of people waiting for inpatient and day care treatments had been reduced by 3 per cent, Dr Connor said, and those waiting 12 months or longer had been reduced by 95 per cent, from 3,489 in September 2011 to 203 in May.

Under an initiative introduced by the SDU, hospitals were to be fined €25,000 for every month a patient is waiting more than 12 months for any planned inpatient procedure.