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, the Government is committed to improving waiting times for hospital appointments and procedures.
The joint Department of Health/HSE/National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) Scheduled Care Access Plan 2019 was published in March and sets out measures to improve care for patients waiting for scheduled care this year by reducing waiting times for inpatient/day case treatment and outpatient appointments.
The Access Plan sets out the activity levels for the NTPF and the HSE. The NTPF will supply additionality to HSE activity in order to reduce waiting times experienced by patients for a hospital appointment, operation or procedure.
A key element of the Plan is the stabilisation of the Outpatient Waiting List. Under the Plan the HSE, in line with the National Service Plan, will aim to deliver 3.3 million outpatient appointments, of which approximately 1 million will be first appointments. For its part the NTPF will aim to deliver 40,000 first Outpatient appointments. The HSE and the NTPF will focus in particular on a number of specialties with a high volume of referrals, which include ophthalmology. The NTPF is engaging with the HSE and public hospitals to seek solutions for very long waiting patients. NTPF funded treatment is provided in private hospitals or in public hospitals where there is available capacity.
In addition, my Department is working with the HSE and NTPF, under the Access Plan, with the objective of developing medium-long term improvement initiatives for patient access to hospital procedures. This will include moving care to more appropriate settings and providing care at the lowest level of complexity such as providing ophthalmology in the community; maximising the use of Advanced Nurse Practitioner led clinics; and physiotherapists to manage orthopaedic clinics.
The latest published waiting list figures show that at the end of May 2019 there were 4,408 patients awaiting a first Ophthalmology outpatient appointment at University Hospital Limerick. Of this number, 1,184 (27%) were waiting 18 months or longer.
With regard to the specific issue raised by the Deputy in relation to first time Ophthalmology outpatient appointments in University Hospital Limerick, I have asked the HSE to respond to the Deputy Directly.