THE HSE has come under fire after it was revealed yesterday that 8,000 patients were removed from hospital waiting lists over an 18-month period in Cork for failing to respond to validation letters.
The Echo revealed that more than 13,000 people were removed from hospital waiting lists across the southwest between January 2017 and June 2018 for failing to respond to the letters — more than 8,000 of these were waiting for appointments at Cork hospitals.
Validation letters are sent to patients asking if they still need their appointment with the HSE, requesting a response within seven days or patients are removed from lists.
Cork GP Dr Nick Flynn said: “They’re removing these patients without knowing if it’s actually safe to remove them.”
Dr Flynn recently revealed to The Echo that a patient of his with significant mental health and cognitive issues was taken off the waiting list as a result of the validation practice.
He said the prepaid envelope attached, with a Dublin address, caused great confusion and the patient had missed the return deadline by the time she asked him about it.
Cork East TD Pat Buckley (SF) blasted the health service for engaging in what he described as a “disgraceful numbers fiddle” in order to give the appearance that waiting lists are falling.
“This is utterly unethical and unacceptable,” he said. “Here we have a service, which is supposed to be providing healthcare to the people, seeking to cut waiting lists without any improvement to access.
“These people on waiting lists are being removed without any consideration for the damage it may do to them. There is no excuse.
“If a year ago you were deemed to require an appointment for orthopaedics, dermatology, pain relief, and plastic surgery, then there is no reason to believe a year of waiting has cured you of that need.”
He described it as a “deeply cynical act” and called on the health minister to put a stop to this practice.
Fellow Cork TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (SF) added: “It is not acceptable practice to simply wipe 8,000 people off a waiting list, simply because they have missed a letter.
“This appears to be a common strategy, to reduce waiting lists across several areas of the State’s services; when lists get too long, simply try to shake off a few by firing out a letter,” he said. “It is very poor form from the HSE and shows it does not have patient interest at heart.
“The idea that if you missed or misread one of these letters that you would be right back to the back of the queue, or worse, not even realise that they have been removed, is quite shocking and bad for their healthcare outcomes,” he added.
Both TDs called for patients to be reinstated on waiting lists.