Tuesday, 19 October 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Hospital Waiting Lists
86. To ask the Minister for Health the number of persons on hospital waiting lists, including lists not reported by the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, such as diagnostic lists; his plans for tackling waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50782/21]
My question is on hospital waiting lists. I am asking for the total number of people who are on waiting lists, including those not captured by the NTPF, which would include diagnostics. When I make my supplementary contribution I want to concentrate on children on waiting lists, which is of huge concern to me.
There are 760,394 patients on acute hospital inpatient day case, outpatient and gastrointestinal scope waiting lists, as published by the NTPF. I recognise that a higher figure of more than 900,000 is regularly used and it is important to note that this figure includes just under 150,000 patients who already have scheduled care. The NTPF figure we should be most concerned with is the 760,394 patients.
The Deputy asked what there is on top of that. With regard to the number of patients waiting for diagnostics, it should be noted that many of these are surveillance patients. That means these patients are due a scheduled diagnostic test at a future time. It also includes patients in treatment who need an associated diagnostic test and patients who are awaiting a diagnostic test for the first time. These are the patients the Deputy and I are probably most interested in. I emphasise that we have a diagnostics waiting list of 224,538 and that this is raw data. It includes all these groups and has not been centrally validated, which is why it does not form part of the NTPF’s published reports.
Regardless of the precise answer to the question, the figures are stark and we can all agree that they are unacceptable. They were unacceptable prior to the start of Covid-19 and, as we all know, they have been exacerbated by two big events. I have outlined my plans for dealing with waiting lists. I published the acute waiting list action plan on 7 October and the plan will run to the end of this year. It includes 150,000 waiting list-related interventions. I can give more detail in my supplementary response.
I have been in many hospitals in recent weeks. I have been in hospitals in Cork, Galway, Limerick, Laois, Sligo and many other places. I have met hospital management, campaigning groups and those on the front line and the figures are shocking. The length of time people are waiting is also a difficulty.
I want to home in on the matter of children with scoliosis because a promise was made not so long ago by the Minister's predecessor and by his predecessor that there would be a maximum four-month waiting time for treatment. There was a promise of outsourcing but that never worked if we are to be truthful. There was also a promise of extra clinics and new consultant posts but children are still waiting. The number of those cases has come into the public domain in recent weeks as the Minister knows. We talked about this when I moved a Private Members' motion and the Minister talked about a girl called Sarah. The problem is still there and it has not gotten better. What will the Minister and the Government do to better support children with scoliosis?
The waiting times for children with scoliosis are not acceptable and they have to be brought down. One of the first places I went when I was appointed as Minister was Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin and I met the orthopaedics team there for exactly this reason. Good efforts have been made and an additional consultant is in place. Things have been greatly exacerbated by Covid, as we know, and by the cyberattack but we cannot let that stop the progress that has to be made. I am working closely with the HSE and the Department and critically, with Children's Health Ireland, CHI, to look at the current barriers, be they the work force, surgeons, operating theatre capacity or operating theatre nurses. Some of the children, as the Deputy is aware, have complex cases that need a team of consultants and much pre-operative work. We have to be clear in Dáil Éireann that the current situation is not acceptable for these children or their parents and that everything that can be done must and will be done to help them.
I met parents of children with scoliosis on Zoom today and many of them said to me that their children have been left with lifelong complications because of the delays to their care. They also said they have seen this before and heard all the promises but that they have not seen the improvements. They said that we should aspire to do better for our children and to have a health service that does not have their children in those circumstances.
I accept the Minister's point that it is unacceptable but the Minister's predecessor and his predecessor sat there and said the same thing and the problem has not improved. The parents said to me that even the communication with them is not what it should be. They say that surgeons do not have access to theatre capacity and that there are no protected beds, for example. They say that because it is elective surgery the operations can be cancelled at the drop of a hat, which causes huge distress for families. What can the Minister and the system do practically to improve this? We have heard it all before and the problem has not improved.
I share the Deputy's concern. I had a long call last week with a parent of one kid with serious complications. What the children are going through is unimaginable, as is what the parents are going through as a result. I have told the parents that we will sort this out. We are working directly with CHI to understand exactly what the bottlenecks are. Some of this can be solved through resourcing. We have some fantastic surgeons in this country and we have to make sure they have the operating theatre time they need and that we have full theatre teams. These are highly specialised teams and we have to make sure the pre-operative and post-operative capacity are in place for these operations, particularly for the most complex ones. We also have to make sure that the multi-disciplinary teams are available. We both know that for some of these children it is not just about having an orthopaedics teams ready to go on the day; multi-disciplinary teams have to be in place. For me and all of us in here, this is a top priority. Funding is available and we are working to understand what the bottlenecks are to make sure these children get the treatment they need and deserve.