It is recognised that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted in the last year as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The HSE is currently recommending that only critical time dependent elective procedures are undertaken at this time due to the on-going and significant increased demand for bed capacity related to Covid-19. This decision was made arising from the rapid increase in Covid-19 admissions and to ensure patient safety and that all appropriate resources are made available for Covid-19 related activity and time-critical essential work.
Patient safety remains at the centre of all hospital activity and elective care scheduling. To ensure services are provided in a safe, clinically-aligned and prioritised way, hospitals are following HSE clinical guidelines and protocols. The HSE continues to optimise productivity through alternative work practices such as the use of alternative settings including private hospitals, community facilities and alternative outpatient settings.
In recent years, my Department has worked with the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to improve access for patients waiting for high volume procedures, including cataracts. Ophthalmology services are provided throughout all hospital groups in the country, with cataract removal one of the key procedures carried out as part of this specialty.
A key development in improving access to Ophthalmology services was the opening of a stand-alone high-volume consultant-led cataract theatre by the University of Limerick Hospital Group in Nenagh Hospital in 2018, with the intention that it would facilitate patients from surrounding geographical areas to avail of their treatment there. The impact of such initiatives can be seen in the reduction in the waiting times to access cataract procedures since 2019. At the end of January 2021 there were 4,634 patients waiting for a cataract procedure compared to 6,437 in January 2019.
An additional €240 million has been provided in Budget 2021 for an Access to Care Fund, €210m of which has been allocated to the HSE and €30m to the NTPF for the provision of treatment as required in both private and public hospitals in order to address capacity issues in acute hospitals and waiting lists.
My Department, the HSE and the NTPF are continuously reviewing waiting lists with a view to ensuring that services for scheduled care are resumed as soon as it is deemed safe to do so in line with HSE clinical guidelines.
The attached document shows the number of persons on the outpatient and inpatient & daycase (IPDC) waiting lists for ophthalmology in each county and the average waiting time for an appointment at the end of January 2021.