Thursday, 1 April 2021
Department of Health
Hospital Waiting Lists
It is recognised that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted in the last year as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The HSE is currently recommending that only critical time dependent elective procedures are undertaken at this time due to the on-going and significant increased demand for bed capacity related to COVID-19.
This decision was made arising from the rapid increase in Covid-19 admissions and to ensure patient safety and that all appropriate resources were made available for Covid-19 related activity and time-critical essential work.
Patient safety remains at the centre of all hospital activity and elective care scheduling. To ensure services are provided in a safe, clinically-aligned and prioritised way, hospitals are following HSE clinical guidelines and protocols. The HSE continues to optimise productivity through alternative work practices such as the use of alternative settings including private hospitals, community facilities and alternative outpatient settings.
On 23 March the HSE published the “Safe Return to Health Services Plan”. This plan outlines a three phased plan for the proposed restoration of services across Community Services, Acute Hospital Operations, Cancer Services and Screening Services. It sets target times for their safe return and details the conditions and challenges that will have to be met.
Every phase of the plan has been informed by clinical guidance and putting patient and staff safety first.
Decisions in relation to the type and volume of activity will be made at site level based on local COVID-19 numbers, available capacity and guidance from national clinical leads.
The schedule outlined in the plan for resumption of services will be regularly monitored by the HSE and updated as appropriate, dependant on public health advice and healthcare capacity.
In recent years, my Department has worked with the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to improve access for patients waiting for high volume procedures, including cataracts. Ophthalmology services are provided throughout all hospital groups in the country, with cataract removal one of the key procedures carried out as part of this specialty.
A key development in improving access to Ophthalmology services was the opening of a stand-alone high-volume consultant-led cataract theatre by the University of Limerick Hospital Group in Nenagh Hospital in 2018, with the intention that it would facilitate patients from surrounding geographical areas to avail of their treatment there. The impact of such initiatives can be seen in the reduction in the waiting times to access cataract procedures since 2019. At the end of February 2021 there were 4,317 patients waiting for a cataract procedure compared to 6,276 in February 2019.
The work of the HSE to improve access to elective care and reduce waiting times for patients is supported by the NTPF. This includes increased use of private hospitals, funding weekend and evening work in public hospitals, funding “see and treat” services where minor procedures are provided at the same time as outpatient consultations, funding hybrid services where public and private hospitals contribute to the treatment of patients, virtual clinics and clinical validation.
€240 million has been provided in Budget 2021 for an access to care fund, €210m of which has been allocated to the HSE and a further €30m to the National Treatment Purchase Fund. This will be used to fund additional capacity to address the shortfall arising as a result of measures taken in the context of COVID-19, as well as to address waiting lists.
The data requested by the Deputy regarding the waiting time for cataract treatment by county is outlined at the following link. This data provides the number of patients by time band on the cataract waiting list by county/area of residence.