Dedicated Government unit fails to get a grip on mounting hospital lists as 883,727 people now waiting for care

  • Record 883,727 people now on some form of NTPF waiting list;
  • Department of Health unit established to improve access to care and reduce wait times fails to stem escalating hospital waiting list crisis over the last three and a half years;
  • 21,420 patients now waiting longer than one year for essential hospital treatment;
  • Crisis in unscheduled care returns with highest number of patients treated on trolleys since start of pandemic, causing further cancellation of scheduled care;
  • Government must work with consultant representatives to fill the one in five permanent consultant posts that are vacant to bring waiting lists down.

IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine: “By any standards this is a very disappointing performance. The Department of Health’s unit should be an imaginative solution-focussed hub and incubator for new ideas. This requires shared leadership and collaborative engagement with hospital consultants who provide the medical and surgical care and their representatives to ensure an improved public hospital service for the Irish people.”

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today (Friday 14 May 2021) expressed its dismay as 883,727 people are now waiting for an appointment to be treated or seen by a hospital consultant, due to one in five permanent hospital consultant posts that are not being filled as needed.

Consultants say that despite the existence of a dedicated Scheduled and Unscheduled Care Performance Unit (SUCPU), set up at the Department of Health in late 2017, an additional 130,000 people are now awaiting an outpatient appointment to see a consultant – an increase of 26% over the past three and a half years since its establishment.1

The unit was created with the core objectives of improving access for patients to acute hospital services and to reducing waiting times for both scheduled and unscheduled care.

However, the latest National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) figures released today show that the number of patients waiting over one year for scheduled hospital treatment has increased by almost two-thirds since then, increasing from 13,385 in December 2017 to 21,420 last month.2

The Department’s record on unscheduled care has been brought into further focus this week with 376 people on trolleys awaiting a hospital bed on Tuesday – the highest level since the start of the pandemic. Last Wednesday’s figure of 328 patients on trolleys was only the fifth time since March 2020 that the number had gone over 300, but the third time it had done so this week.

The IHCA has said the low number of consultants due to the difficulty in filling permanent consultant posts is the root cause of the unacceptably long waiting lists, which they say is likely to worsen in the coming months as more restrictions are lifted and people who have put off seeking care enter the system.

The IHCA has urged the Government to engage with it on how to appoint additional hospital consultants, on terms to be agreed with the Association, in order to fill the one in five permanent consultant posts that are vacant. This is essential if the backlogs of an estimated 700,000 fewer hospital appointments that have arisen due to the pandemic last year and the expected 200,000 reduction this year are to be addressed.

Commenting on today’s NTPF figures, IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine, said:

“In the 42 months since it was established to reduce waiting lists and enhance access to care, the Scheduled and Unscheduled Care Performance Unit (SUCPU) in the Department of Health has overseen a ballooning of numbers on outpatient waiting lists from around 500,000 to 630,000.

“Every single one of these numbers represents a person and a family seeking healthcare; every single request will be reviewed and triaged by our members, who know better than anyone the professional disappointment of being unable to offer a timely appointment to a person in need of care for, in many cases, several years.

“By any standards this is a very disappointing performance. The Department of Health’s unit should be an imaginative solution-focussed hub and incubator for new ideas. This requires shared leadership and collaborative engagement with hospital consultants who provide the medical and surgical care and their representatives to ensure an improved public hospital service for the Irish people.

“Minister Donnelly must confirm the date when his unambiguous commitment to restore pay parity for consultants will take effect to end the inequity imposed unilaterally on those taking up contracts since 2012. This is essential if we are to fill the one in five permanent consultant posts that are vacant and start to bring waiting lists down.”

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