Harris "ashamed" by waiting list experiences

The Health Minster said the experiences of people waiting for treatment are "absolutely inexcusable"

The Health Minister has said reducing waiting lists is a key priority for government in the next year.

Simon Harris was reacting to an RTÉ Investigates programme that found tens of thousands of patients aren't included on official waiting lists.

Minister Harris said he is ashamed and heartbroken by the ordeal facing patients on waiting lists around the country.

“The personal stories of the people waiting for treatment are deeply moving and the experiences they describe are absolutely inexcusable,” said Minister Harris. “The programme clearly illustrates the physical and emotional burden of waiting for long periods for both patients and their families.”

The National Treatment Purchase Fund - which collates and validates information on people waiting for public hospital treatment - said the waiting list figures are compiled using "international best practices."

Confusing the issue

However, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Louise O'Reilly does not accept the NTPF explanations and said the authorities are trying to “deflect and confuse the issue once again.”

“The simple fact is there are tens of thousands of people waiting for vital operations who have very little confidence that they are going to get those operations and those procedures,” she said.

“People are living in pain, in constant pain, and that is something that I hope that the HSE officials and the Minister were watching and paying attention to; the pain and suffering that is being caused at the moment.”

Minister Harris said the waiting list figures have been “consistently counted the same way since the establishment of the NTPF and follow other international models, for example Sweden and Canada.”

He said a HSE action plan to halve the number of patients waiting over 18 months for treatment has been successfully completed - with over 11,500 patients coming off the Inpatient/ Daycase waiting list in the second half of 2016.

He said the plan for reducing waiting lists in 2017 will require “close collaboration” between the NTPF, the HSE and the Department of Health.

As part of the 2017 strategy, the minister said the NTPF will make use of capacity in the private acute hospital sector in 2017 to treat longest-waiting patients on the Inpatient/Daycase list.

Yesterday, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the Irish health system has its biggest budget ever and warned that money alone won't reduce waiting lists.

“I think there are quite a number of serious changes that do need to be made in terms of the way we look at what it is that hospitals provide for the time ahead," he said.

“How you deal with the staff resources and the management structures that are there and should be there [...] where you have long waiting lists like this.

“Nobody wants to see a situation where people are in pain on waiting lists that are unnecessary.”

Unpublished waiting lists

The total number of people waiting on the inpatient/daycase waiting list as published by the NTPF on the December 30th last year was 81,015.

However according to the RTÉ investigates programme, evidence was uncovered that shows there are at least two other waiting lists which are not published by the NTPF.

One of those is the pre-planned list containing names of thousands of patients who require follow up treatment.

The second list is known as the pre-admit list. It too contains thousands of patients from across the country waiting up to 18 months on surgical procedures.

In a statement the NTPF said it is currently commissioning a research project examining updated international best practice around publication models and methodologies and will review the outcome in due course.