Thursday, 2 December 2021
Department of Health
241. To ask the Minister for Health the extent to which surgery is readily available for the removal of cataracts in this jurisdiction; the number of such surgical interventions undertaken here in the past twelve months; his plans to extend this service in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [59759/21]
It is recognised that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted in the last twenty months as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.
The current surge in Covid-19 cases has put increasing pressures on hospitals and ICUs. As part of the response to this the HSE advised all Hospital Groups on 18th November, to take a series of immediate actions which include a 14 day period of prioritising unscheduled care, COVID care and time sensitive work in particular in Model 4 hospitals. The situation is to be reviewed after that period.
On the 7th October I published the Acute Waiting List Action Plan. This plan, to run until December 2021, has a series of targeted measures that are designed to address the growth in waiting lists caused by Covid-19 and the cyber-attack. In addition, my Department, the HSE and the NTPF are also working on a Multi Annual Waiting List Plan to bring waiting lists in line with Sláintecare targets over the coming years. This process will be overseen by a Ministerial Taskforce, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and includes representatives from the HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund. The plan will be informed by the lessons learned from the successful Vaccine Taskforce.
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 2018. At the end of October 2021 there were 4,717 patients waiting for a cataract procedure compared to 6,452 in October 2018.
For 2022 an additional allocation of €250 million, comprised of €200 million to the HSE and €50 million to the National Treatment Purchase Fund has been provided in respect of work to reduce hospital and community waiting lists. The €250 million will be used to fund additional activity in both the public and private sectors. The €50 million additional funding provided to the NTPF brings its total allocation for 2022 to €150 million, and as a consequence there will be a budget of €350 million available to support vital initiatives to improve access to acute hospitals and community health services.
In relation to the particular queries raised, regarding where surgery is available for the removal of cataracts and the number of procedures that have taken place in the last twelve months, as these are service matters, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.