Hospital Waiting Lists and How They Are Compiled

[Speaking in the Seanad during Order of Business]

I am sorry if I sound like a broken record, but we will need to have a fresh debate on the issue of hospital waiting lists in the aftermath of data and an international comparison being published, both of which emerged during the week. As the Minister for Health, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has correctly and honestly acknowledged, the HSE figures show an unacceptably long waiting list. Clearly, initiative after initiative has failed. This is the long-running wound in the health care system. In every one of the 22 years I have worked in Ireland since coming back in 1993 it has been the ongoing disaster. There is no sign of it getting better; it is just getting worse.

One might say this is a problem which reflects the increasing success of medicine, its increasing cost and complexity and increasing demand on services, but we have comparative figures which show that other countries are doing it much better. As the House will know, I have brought to the attention of colleagues in this and other fora my concerns about some of the metrics being used to collect waiting list statistics. I will not use any pejorative or presumptive term, but I have referred to the possibility that there may have been practices in recording these metrics within the HSE which tended to minimise the length of the wait by not starting waiting lists until correspondence had been received, etc., and of having the dual waiting list phenomenon, whereby people waiting to see a doctor are put on a second waiting list for the procedure, surgery or test that the doctor orders without really counting the totality of a waiting list.

We now know that the problem is bad. Data from the European Health Consumer Index published in the past few days show that not only are we doing very badly and slipping, but we are now lower than Estonia and Slovenia. It is an old song which I have been singing for a while. It is telling that the people who compiled the data for the European Health Consumer Index said they were no longer using government figures. I refer to “government” in the broad public service sense, rather than to the Government. They no longer use the officially provided figures because they consider they are not credible. They are now using figures which they take from alternative sources, including patient groups.

We have a real problem. We know that the waiting lists are bad and have a suspicion that they may even be worse than is thought from the official figures. They are getting worse in comparison to those in other countries and there is now at least some international scrutiny of the methodology we use for collecting figures which suggests the position may be a good deal worse than we know. I have a certain sympathy for the Minister and the officials on the crisis that emerged in emergency departments. While that will happen from time to time, the problem is that the outlet valve on the other side of emergency departments of beds for patient admissions is so deficient that problems are being caused for elective waiting lists. The beds now being freed up to deal with the high profile emergency room overcrowding issue are one that could otherwise have been used to get people off waiting lists. Four years into the term of the Government that promised as one its core principles the reform of the health service, it needs to be done.

One Response to “Hospital Waiting Lists and How They Are Compiled”
  1. Eileen OSullivan says:

    Well said but is anybody listening?

    Best regards

    Sent from my iPhone


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