Wednesday, 6 October 2021
Department of Health
154. To ask the Minister for Health the reason there is no consultant ophthalmologist located permanently at Letterkenny University Hospital; if an assessment of need was carried out in respect of this decision; if that assessment will be made available; and if he will liaise with the Health Service Executive to recruit a consultant ophthalmologist to be located permanently in Letterkenny University Hospital. [48582/21]
It is recognised that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted in the last eighteen months as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently as a result of the ransomware attack. While significant progress was made in reducing waiting times from June 2020 onwards, the surge in Covid-19 cases in the first quarter of 2021 and the associated curtailment of acute hospital services, coupled with the ransomware attack of May 2021, has impacted waiting times. However, the HSE advise that acute services are now almost all fully restored to pre-cyber-attack levels, and are operating in line with relevant Covid protocols.
My Department, the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) are focusing on improving access to elective care in order to reduce waiting times for patients. These plans include 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, providing virtual clinics and increasing capacity in the public hospital system.
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 August 2021 there were 4,511 patients waiting for a cataract procedure compared to 5,528 in August 2019.
An additional €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 NTPF. This is to be used to fund additional capacity to address the shortfall arising as a result of infection control measures taken in the context of COVID-19, as well as addressing backlogs in waiting lists.
My Department is working with the HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to develop a two-pronged approach to tackle the rise in waiting lists. Firstly, with the finalisation of a Waiting List Action Plan which will cover the rest of the year, until December 2021. Secondly through the development of a longer-term Multi Annual Waiting List Plan to bring waiting lists in line with Sláintecare targets.
The information requested by the Deputy concerning the of persons waiting on an ophthalmology appointment for less than six and more than six months by county, is outlined in the attached document.
<a href="">Ophthalmology by County</a>
157. To ask the Minister for Health the number of clinics and visits made by the consultant ophthalmologist to Letterkenny University Hospital in each of the years 2018, 2019, 2020 and to date in 2021, in tabular form. [48585/21]
158. To ask the Minister for Health the reason a consultant ophthalmologist cannot assess children (details supplied) at Letterkenny University Hospital before a scheduled date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48586/21]