(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.