I am conscious that waiting times are often unacceptably long and of the burden that this places on patients and their families. In this regard I am committed to improving waiting times for hospital appointments and procedures.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgical procedures carried out in the Ophthalmology specialty and is one of the targeted high-volume procedures of the Scheduled Care Access Plan for both 2018 and 2019.
Waiting List figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) for the end of March show the total number of patients waiting for a cataract procedure fell from 10,024 in July 2017 to under 6,300, a reduction of almost 38%. The numbers waiting more than 3 months halved in the same period, down from 8,000 to just over 4,000, while those waiting more than 9 months fell from 4,371 to 531, a reduction of 88%.
Last year also saw the establishment of a dedicated Cataract Centre at Nenagh Hospital. This is a stand-alone high-volume consultant-led cataract theatre facility which, at full capacity, is expected to deliver approximately 2,000 cataract procedures.
Budget 2019 announced that the Government had further increased investment in tackling waiting lists, with funding to the NTPF increasing from €55 million in 2018 to €75 million in 2019.
The joint Department of Health/HSE/NTPF Scheduled Care Access Plan 2019 was published in March and sets out measures to improve care for patients waiting for scheduled care in 2019 by reducing waiting times for inpatient, day case and outpatient appointments. The plan places a strong focus on ten high-volume procedures, including cataracts. When combined with HSE activity it is projected that the NTPF will be in a position to offer treatment to all clinically suitable patients waiting more than 6 months for one of these procedures.
Under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive (HSE) is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. Section 6 of the HSE Governance Act 2013 bars the Minister for Health from directing the HSE to provide a treatment or a personal service to any individual or to confer eligibility on any individual.
The National Waiting List Management Policy, a standardised approach to managing scheduled care treatment for in-patient, day case and planned procedures, since January 2014, has been developed to ensure that all administrative, managerial and clinical staff follow an agreed national minimum standard for the management and administration of waiting lists for scheduled care. This policy, which has been adopted by the HSE, sets out the processes that hospitals are to implement to manage waiting lists.
In relation to the particular query raised, as this is a service matter, I have asked the HSE to respond to the Deputy directly.