Health | Reduction of waiting lists for those potentially threatening from life threating or life changing conditions post Covid-19
To ask the Minister for Health the manner in which it is intended to reduce waiting lists for those potentially suffering from life threatening or life changing condition with particular reference to delays arising in the aftermath of Covid-19, if immediate preparations can be made to address these issues in the short-term; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I thank the Deputy for his question.
I recognise that acute hospital scheduled care waiting lists are far too long, and that many patients are waiting an unacceptably long time for care. While these waiting lists have been a challenge for the Irish healthcare system for decades, they worsened considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic, and health services are now dealing with significant pent-up demand. Countries across the world are also reporting increased pressure on healthcare services and associated waiting lists largely due to the unprecedented impact of the pandemic.
In addition to this, unfortunately scheduled care activity is vulnerable when our acute hospitals and healthcare staff are under significant pressure due to surges in demand for unscheduled care. Increased Emergency Department attendances can unfortunately result in some cancellations of elective procedures, and we recognise the impact this will have on patients.
However, during such pressure periods time-sensitive cancer diagnostic and treatment services continue to be prioritised, alongside the urgent care needs of those undergoing cancer treatment.
Despite these challenges, positive progress has been made in Ireland over the past 18 months due to a new multi-annual action plan approach, led by my Department and in conjunction with the HSE and the NTPF, that is turning the tide on rising waiting lists and waiting times.
Waiting lists for scheduled care in our hospitals increased by nearly 60% between 2015 and 2021 creating huge backlogs, but this unacceptable trend has now been halted and waiting lists and waiting times are now decreasing as a result of the interventions funded by our annual action plans.
The 2023 Waiting List Action Plan, which will be published shortly, is the next stage of this new multi-annual approach and builds on the foundational work done through the short-term Waiting List Action Plan which delivered 5.4% delivered September and December in 2021. This was followed by the first full year Waiting List Action Plan for 2022, without which active hospital waiting lists would have increased by 42% to over 1 million people. Instead, c.1.56 million patients removed and c.1.53 million patients added to hospital waiting lists during 2022 – a net reduction of c.30,000 people (4.1%) to c.690,000.
These overall reductions in waiting lists were also complemented by significant reductions in waiting times, with the introduction of new maximum wait time targets. The number of patients exceeding the 18-month maximum wait time target for new outpatient (OPD) appointments decreased in 2022 by c.59,000 (38.5%). The number of patients exceeding the 12-month maximum wait time target for inpatient / day case (IPDC) procedures and gastrointestinal endoscopy (GI Scopes) has decreased by c.3,800 (22.6%) and c.3,500 (86.5%) respectively.
The 2023 Plan allocates €363 million to address acute scheduled care waiting lists, including:
- €240 million in non-recurrent funding to the NTPF and HSE to continue providing additional public and private activity to maintain the momentum of further reducing waiting times and clear the waiting list backlogs exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- €123 million in recurrent funding to the HSE to implement modernised care pathways and to sustainably close the capacity gaps in specialties and hospitals that create unacceptably long scheduled care waiting lists and times.
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