Céisteanna—Questions. Oral Questions. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Question:

2 Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health the current total of the public hospital waiting lists; the reason the figures for the first part of 1996 have been delayed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17060/96]

Helen Keogh

Question:

23 Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Health his views on the closure of 800 hospital beds during the summer; whether these beds will remain closed until the end of the year; the impact, if any, of these closures on hospital waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16974/96]

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

Question:

27 Mrs. Geoghegan-Quinn asked the Minister for Health the number of wards closed and hospital beds out of service in each health board area since June 1996; the plans, if any, there are for reopening these wards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16939/96]

Helen Keogh

Question:

48 Ms Keogh asked the Minister for Health the proposals, if any, he has for reducing hospital waiting lists and waiting times to a medically acceptable level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16975/96]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

87 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Health the current position with regard to hospital waiting lists; the trends in these lists for each of the years 1995 and 1996; and the plans, if any, he has to ensure that the necessary resources are allocated to maintain improvements in this area. [17138/96]

(Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 2, 23, 27, 48 and 87 together.

The number of persons on the public hospital waiting list at 30 June 1996 was 30,447. The full figures on a national basis for 30 June 1996 were not available until recent days. The corresponding waiting list figure at the end of June 1995 was 27,696.

I am concerned that the overall waiting list for in-patient treatment has risen over the past 12 months and I intend to act quickly to tackle this increase. The level of service to be provided by the acute hospital sector for 1996 as agreed between my Department and the health agencies will be fully delivered in accordance with the agreed service plans. As the Deputy will be aware, seasonal closures of hospital beds are usually planned to coincide with a period when staff are on annual leave and to take advantage of a fall off in non-emergency elective admissions during the holidays. In addition, this period is often used as an opportunity to refurbish wards or to carry out minor capital improvements. Decisions on the extent and timing of such closures are, in my view, best left to local health agencies.

In June 1996, a total of 141 beds were closed. This represented 1.1 per cent of the total bed compliment of 12,777. A further 276 beds were closed in July 1996 and in August 1996 a further 288 beds were closed. In the peak holiday month of August, therefore, a total of 705 beds were closed, or 5.5 per cent of the total bed compliment of 12,777. The monthly average of beds closed during the June to August period was 421 or 3.3 per cent of the total bed compliment. However, I should stress that all emergency and urgent services continue to be provided during this period.

I have had the position reviewed and I now intend to direct some funding to this area so that waiting lists do not continue to rise for the remainder of the year. I have instructed officials from my Department to examine, as a matter of urgency, a number of areas where waiting lists are excessive and where existing spare capacity can be used to effect a reduction in these lists. I expect to have this exercise concluded within the next few days. Is it likely that, by the end of this year, the total additional funding provided to reduce waiting lists since June 1993 when the overall waiting list figure was 40,130 will be of the order of £50 million.

Is it not a scandal that the sum of £30 million spent by the Government in 1993 and 1994 which had such a successful result in reducing the waiting list means now almost nothing in that the waiting list has increased significantly in the past 12 months?

The Minister says he intends to act quickly but is it not money that is needed? How much money is the Minister going to provide, how soon will it be provided and what result will it have? How many of the 705 beds closed in August are still closed? When will we have the full complement of beds available again?

(Limerick East): The base line figure before the waiting list initiative was commenced, before the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Government left office, was 40,130. The Deputy was right to remind me that when she was in Cabinet with my colleagues in the Labour Party the waiting list initiative commenced. This has been continued since I took over as Minister for Health from my colleague, the Minster for the Environment. Deputy Howlin. Including the £7 million allocated to the waiting list initiative in 1996, to date £45 million has been expended.

How much for the two years 1995 and 1996?

(Limerick East): I think it comprised £12 million and £7 million, £19 million in total.

As opposed to £30 million.

(Limerick East): Yes, the figure was £30 million but they are not the same people.

Of course, it is not Fianna Fáil and Labour any longer.

(Limerick East): Neither are they the same people on the waiting lists. Some people have had their operations and others joined the list.

There should not be this long waiting list.

(Limerick East): I think the Deputy is trying to obstruct me from announcing the good news in the manner I had intended. We have been in contact with hospitals and agencies all around the country. There is spare capacity in some hospitals and agencies. There is no point in giving money to hospitals and agencies that do not have spare capacity. I expect that the hospitals I have identified have the capacity to spend another £5 million or so for the remainder of this year. I will be providing that extra funding. I cannot tell the Deputy the number of operations that will pay for but it will be of the order of 6,000 or 7,000. Therefore, the progress which Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party commenced, which we have continued, will continue right on through the next election into our second term in office, provided we can all keep out the Progressive Democrats, who have no interest in this matter, who had waiting lists of 41,000 the day they left office.