Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

645 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the methodology used in determining hospital waiting lists; the length of time a patient is expected to wait after diagnosis before gaining access to surgery in the various disciplines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2206/99]

Public in-patient waiting lists are maintained by every acute hospital in the country. In its recent policy circular on the operation of the waiting list initiative, my Department has set out specific criteria for inclusion of cases on in-patient waiting lists, as follows: (i) a person should be included on a public in-patient waiting list only if he/she has been certified medically as in need of a specific treatment or procedure which cannot be provided within the normal scheduling arrangements of the hospital for public patients; (ii) a person waiting less than three months for a procedure should not be defined as waiting and should not be included on the waiting list. This applies under the original criteria introduced at the beginning of the first waiting list initiative in 1993; (iii) a person considered to be unsuitable for immediate treatment should not be defined as waiting for treatment and should not be included on the waiting list; (iv) a person who is on more than one waiting list in different acute hospitals should be retained on the waiting list of only one hospital and not included on the waiting list of the others. In this context a person should be asked if he/she is on a current waiting list elsewhere, at the time of their referral for an in-patient procedure. The relevant consultants in the different hospitals should be asked to agree, in conjunction with the patient and his/her general practitioner, the list on which the patient is to be included; (v) patients should be given the maximum possible notice of the date for their treatment or procedure. Where a person defers a procedure the agency should consider whether or not to reschedule it immediately. The agency may consider it appropriate, depending on the circumstances of the deferral, to require the patient to commence their waiting time anew or no longer to include the patient on a waiting list; (vi) where a person who defers an assessment or review or fails to attend for an assessment or review the agency should apply the provisions set out in (v) above, and; (vii) a person who has received their procedure elsewhere should not be included on the waiting list. Each hospital is required to adhere to these criteria in maintaining and updating its public in-patient waiting list. The importance of validating these lists has been emphasised to agencies, so that an accurate and up-to-date picture of the situation can be available at all times.

The length of time patients must wait for surgery varies between specialties. My Department's policy circular indicates that agencies should aim for a maximum waiting time of 12 months in target specialties for adults, and for a maximum waiting time of six months in target specialties for children.

I have set aside a total of £20 million for treatments under the waiting list initiative in 1999, which is aimed at reducing both waiting lists and waiting times during the year. This represents an increase of two-thirds over the figure allocated in 1998 and is 2.5 times higher than the amount provided for waiting lists by the previous Government in 1997. I am confident that this funding, together with the range of initiatives that I have taken this year, will help agencies to move towards achieving the target waiting times for adults and children.