The HSE has said a new initiative to tackle long waiting lists for colonoscopies will involve carrying out extra procedures in the public hospital system.
It says the additional tests will be carried out through the use of unused capacity in the public system, and this will include asking patients to attend hospitals on Saturdays for the tests.
The initiative was announced after it was revealed this week that a record 2,418 people are waiting over three months for colonoscopies at public hospitals. These tests are often used to check for bowel cancer.
The HSE told irishhealth.com that it aims to undertake around 3,500 colonoscopies and 3,500 upper endoscopes (of the upper gastrointestinal tract) in hospitals across the system to clear current waiting lists between now and the end of the year.
It says funding has been directed to the new plan to ensure that the additional procedures take place.
The health executive said the initiative also aims to reduce waiting lists for children needing endoscopies at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin.
The HSE said there has been a significant rise in demand for stomach and bowel tests, particularly colonoscopies, since 2010.
It said 98% of urgent colonoscopies are carried out within a month. While the 2,418 on the waiting list are classified 'non urgent', the Irish Cancer Society says it would not make a distinction between 'urgent' and non-urgent' cases with regard to colonoscopies checking for possible bowel cancer.
It says many 'non-urgent' referrals would not have obvious symptoms and some people without these symptoms can end up being diagnosed with advanced cancer.
While the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) is involved in the colonoscopy initiative, the scheme is being funded by the HSE, with the NTPF providing administrative support.
The role of the NTPF, which traditionally has arranged private hospital treatment for those on public waiting lists, was recently changed. It is now working with Health Minister James Reilly's new Special Delivery Unit tasked with clearing waiting lists in the hospital system.
For the remainder of this year, the NTPF is no longer routinely accepting referrals for patients waiting over three months for treatment and is now targeting specific waiting list backlogs. It has also been asked to arrange more waiting list treatments in the public hospital sector.
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