Investment Needed To Tackle Hospital Waiting Lists

"Sustained investment" is required to address the backlog of hospital waiting lists, the Department of Health has said today.

It comes as the most recent quarterly statistics reveal that over 288,754 patients were waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment at the end of March 2019.

That figure is up by 7,003 on December last year and 18,920 (7%) on March 2018.

Over three quarters (213,708) of patients waited more than nine weeks, while around a third (97,851) waited over one year.

The figures exceed the Ministerial targets for outpatient waiting times which stand at 50% of patients waiting no longer than nine weeks, with no one expected to wait longer than 52 weeks.

The DoH said waiting times have been continually rising since 2014 as a result of wider financial pressures on the system, with budgets increasingly stretched to maintain existing services and funding to suppress waiting time growth limited in supply.
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Alongside sustained investment, longer term action is also required to prevent the problem recurring. That means transformation of health and social care – improving the capacity of the system to ensure that the growing demand for care is met. The gap between current capacity and demand will not be bridged in any other way, according to the DoH.

Transformation initiatives include the establishment of day case elective care centres – new standalone specialist day surgery units. Centres for cataract and varicose veins have been operational since December 2018 and there are plans to transfer thousands of other day case routine operations to dedicated elective care centre locations by December 2020. 

The worrying waiting time statistics are mirrored in terms of diagnostic services. Ministerial targets stated that by March 2019, 75% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test, with no patient waiting longer than 26 weeks.

130,351 were still waiting for a diagnostic test however, with almost half (64,360) waiting over nine weeks and 21.7% (28,310) left for over 26 weeks.


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