Waiting lists longer than ever at halfway point of 10-year Sláintecare plan

The Government’s plan pledged no-one should wait more than 10 weeks for a public hospital outpatient appointment
Waiting lists longer than ever at halfway point of 10-year Sláintecare plan

Kenneth Fox

Limited progress has been made around waiting lists as public hospitals are still decades away from achieving Sláintecare wait-time targets due to capacity deficits, according to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA).

Almost 900,000 people are on some form of National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) waiting list, up more than 314,000 (54 per cent) since the publication of Sláintecare Report in May 2017.

The Government’s plan pledged no one should wait more than 10 weeks for a public hospital outpatient appointment, yet there are currently 345,000 people on outpatient waiting lists for over six months — with almost a three-fold increase in patients waiting over 18 months in the past five years.

Although the Sláintecare target wait-times for public hospital diagnostic tests is just 10 days, the latest figures reveal 143,000 people waited more than three months for vital CT, MRI or ultrasound scans, with over 57,000 waiting a year or longer.

“The first five years of the 10-year Sláintecare plan have shown that its waiting list targets are not achievable because public hospitals have a severe shortage of consultants, theatres, acute beds, diagnostic and other facilities," IHCA president Professor Alan Irvine said.

"The continuing deficits in hospital consultants and public hospital capacity means it could be decades before the waiting time targets set out in Sláintecare can be achieved.

“Targets to reduce public hospital waiting lists need to be resourced properly to address capacity deficits that are the root causes of delays in treatment. Sláintecare is failing on these important factors."

The targets that no one should wait more than 12 weeks for an inpatient procedure, 10 weeks for an outpatient appointment and 10 days for a diagnostic test will not be met within the lifetime of the Sláintecare plan, the group said.

Diagnostic scans

According to the IHCA, when the additional 236,000 awaiting diagnostic scans are included, the total number of people on hospital waiting lists is well over 1 million.

The target to have all inpatient/day case procedures carried out within 12 weeks also remains decades away, the groups believes, given there are currently 32,600 patients waiting six months or longer for treatment. More than half of these patients (17,041) have been waiting longer than a year for their procedure.

The IHCA said there were almost 380,000 fewer inpatient/day case procedures carried out over the past two years compared to 2019, and 483,000 less outpatient hospital appointments in 2020 and 2021 combined.

The group said while the health service may not have to catch up on all of these missed appointments and procedures, such a volume suggests it could take decades to clear the backlog of deferred care which has yet to present and bring already unacceptable waiting lists under control.

The assessment comes as 838, or 22 per cent, of all approved permanent consultant posts were absolutely vacant (419) at the beginning of March, while the same number were filled on a temporary/agency basis.

The IHCA said the shortage of consultants is due to the difficulty in filling permanent consultant posts, in addition to decade-long capacity deficits in public hospitals which are contributing to long waiting times.

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