Reilly's waiting list plan falls short
The total number of adults and children waiting over 12 months for hospital procedures reached 1,219 at the end of February - the same level it was in the middle of last year when Health Minister James Reilly launched an initiative to cut the number of 'long waiters'.
However, the Department of Health said today that a threat to fine hospitals who still had 12-month-plus waiters on their lists at the end of March has since reduced the numbers waiting for operations for more than a year to 556.
The recent reduction in figures, however, cannot mask the fact that Health Minister James Reilly's initiative to cut the number of long waiters has so far failed to deliver on its targets.
Following the establishment of Dr Reilly's Special Delivery Unit (SDU) last summer, specific hospital initiatives were launched targeting resources and efficiencies aimed at eliminating 12 month-plus waiters by the end of 2011.
This target was not reached, however, and 372 adults and children were waiting over 12 months for care at at the end of the year - all of the patients being at Galway University Hospitals.
By the end of February, the numbers waiting over a year had grown to 1,219, with more hospitals reporting that they had patients waiting over a year for treatment.
While the figure for 12 month-plus waiters has now reduced to 556, 10 hospitals currently have patients in this category, compared to only one at the end of December.
Chief Operations Officer of the SDU Tony O'Brien said today that the evidence would appear to be that since the threat to fine hospitals who were not making efforts to clear their long waiters was made, they have refocused their attention on chronological (longest waiters dealt with first) management of waiting list patients, and that is the reason why we now see waiting lists coming down.
The SDU plans to eliminate the number of patients waiting over nine months for hospital treatment by the end of this year.
However, this is expected to be a challenge given current budget cuts and staff reductions in hospitals.
According to the HSE's latest figures, almost 800 acute beds are currently closed in hospitals around the country, the majority of them for budgetary reasons.
The SDU has recently been working with the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to use spare capacity in the public hospital sector to clear long waiters.
The Department of Health says measures are now in place to tackle the remaining number of patients waiting over 12 months for treatment in the 10 hospitals.
[Posted: Mon 02/04/2012]