I propose to take Questions Nos. 329 and 330 together.
It is recognised that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted in the last eighteen months as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently as a result of the ransomware attack. While significant progress was made in reducing waiting times from June 2020 onwards, the surge in Covid-19 cases in the first quarter of 2021 and the associated curtailment of acute hospital services, coupled with the ransomware attack of May 2021, has impacted waiting times. However, the HSE advise that acute services are now almost all fully restored to pre cyber-attack levels, and are operating in line with relevant Covid protocols.
My Department, the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) are focusing on improving access to elective care in order to reduce waiting times for patients. These plans include increased use of private hospitals, funding weekend and evening work in public hospitals, funding “see and treat” services where minor procedures are provided at the same time as outpatient consultations, providing virtual clinics and increasing capacity in the public hospital system.
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 a further €30m to the NTPF. This is to be used to fund additional capacity to address the shortfall arising as a result of infection control measures taken in the context of COVID-19, as well as addressing backlogs in waiting lists.
My Department is working with the HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to develop a two-pronged approach to tackle the rise in waiting lists. Firstly, with the finalisation of a short term Waiting List Action Plan which will cover the rest of the year, until December 2021. Secondly through the development of a longer-term Multi Annual Waiting List Plan to bring waiting lists in line with Slaintecare targets.
The latest published NTPF waiting list numbers (August 2021) show that there 75,720 patients on the inpatient & daycase (IPDC) waiting list and 652,344 patients on the outpatient waiting list. This information is available on the NTPF website at: www.ntpf.ie/home/nwld.htm