Hospital Waiting Lists

[Speaking in the Seanad during Order of Business]

I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister of Health come to the House today to deal with an urgent problem. It was urgent when the Members of this and the other House were elected three years ago and the issue remains unresolved, unmitigated, unpalliated and just as urgent as it was then. It concerns the scandalous state of waiting lists for public patients. I will not use any word that could seem judgmental, but it is now apparent that, collectively, we were, as a society and spectators of the health service, at least misinformed about the true trajectory of what was happening with waiting lists for several years. It appears that a number of “redefinitions” of what constituted waiting lists, particularly long-term waiting lists, were used. To put it politely, the net effect was to make the figures somewhat better than they had been.

In January I brought to the attention of the Oireachtas an internal document that had been brought to my attention on the standard operating procedure, SOP, for scheduling outpatient appointments requested by a general practitioner, GP. It was apparent to me at that stage that within the SOP there was an opportunity to engage in substantial obfuscation of the truth of the waiting list problem by counting those on the waiting lists, not from the time at which the GP applied for a clinic appointment but from the time at which an official made a request for a particular date. There is a waiting time built into the process before a patient is given a date. Although I was not aware of it, an extraordinary example has been reported in the past couple of days. Approximately one year ago waiting lists appeared to drop by 90% in one month and then rise again to where they had been some time afterwards. There was either an extraordinary epidemic of a very short-lived disease or else there was a major change in the accounting practices used.

This Government was elected on the two big promises of fixing politics and fixing the health service. The report card is not great on either one. As I indicated, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business to allow the Minister to come to the House to tell us how he will address the waiting list issue.

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