I am determined to address the issues leading to unacceptable delays in patients receiving treatment in our hospitals. I have established the Special Delivery Unit (SDU), which is working to unblock access to acute services by improving the flow of patients through the system and by streamlining waiting lists, including the management of GP referrals by hospitals. The SDU is working closely with its partner agencies — mainly the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund. (NTPF).
As an initial priority, public hospitals were instructed to ensure that, by the end of 2011, they had no patients waiting more than 12 months for treatment. I can confirm that 95% of hospitals achieved this objective. During 2012, the SDU will support hospitals in achieving a 9 month maximum waiting time for inpatient and daycase surgery.
Very significant progress had been made on the SDU initiatives on unscheduled care in emergency departments (EDs). Between January 1 2012 and July 13 2012, 9232 fewer patients waited on trolleys when compared with the same period in 2011. This is a significant number of patients whose experience of our EDs was markedly improved. Similarly, new targets for access to diagnostics and outpatient appointments, which the SDU is currently focusing on, will be key to the overall improvement of hospital services in Ireland. The impact of staff reductions from this year and previous years presents a significant challenge for the health system in delivering services. Employment numbers must be reduced to approximately 102,000 by the end of this year, in line with the Government's commitment to reduce public expenditure. Therefore, replacement will only occur in critical areas.
There has, however, been considerable redeployment in the health sector under the Public Service Agreement. This includes staff flexibility in continuing to deliver services during and after retirements. The Health Sector Action Plan for 2012, under the Public Service Agreement, includes provision for further use of redeployment in the health sector.