Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Jun 1999

Vol. 507 No. 3

Adjournment Debate. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

I welcome this valuable opportunity to raise this important matter. The 75 per cent increase in waiting lists in the North-Eastern Health Board region between March 1997 and March 1999 is a cause for alarm, at a time when the Celtic tiger is said to be roaming the country. Almost 1,000 extra cases await treatment. The cases include bypass operations, hip replacements and other orthopaedic procedures. Our Lady's Hospital, Navan, has approximately 220 more patients on its waiting list, an increase of 85 per cent. Wards in that hospital have been closed down. Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, has 500 more patients on the waiting list, an increase of 107 per cent.

A patient who was seen in September 1998 was told that he would be seen by the surgeon in Navan on 3 June 1999. When the patient was seen on 3 June he was told to wait until the following Tuesday to have an X-ray in Monaghan. He then had to return to Navan on the following Thursday, so the person accompanying him had to take three days off work. This examination was done in an effort to have the patient put on the urgent list, but he has heard no word since. On his last visit, the surgeon told him that his hip needed to be replaced urgently and his other hip, which had been replaced previously, needed attention.

A second person has been on an urgent list since April 1999. When my office phoned the admissions department we were informed that the theatre will be closed during July and August because of holidays and refurbishment. The hospital can give this patient no information until after the holidays.

Another case refers to a person who is in a home for the elderly in Northern Ireland. He has been there for the past 15 months instead of being in the complex in Monaghan where he had been previously resident, at one third the cost. When will this patient be operated on and relieved of his pain and when will the State be relieved of the cost of £360 per week which must be paid to the nursing home in Northern Ireland?

A young girl was to have a check-up in Tallaght hospital last autumn. The other day I received a letter from St. Vincent's Hospital which included the following:

The Tallaght Hospital, up until the start of the year, were operating a video telemetry machine. Because of cutbacks, of which I am sure you are fully aware which involve the Tallaght Hospital, this service has been suspended.

I would be grateful if you could write to the Minister for Health requesting that this service should be financed because we don't have any access for this service for our patients in St Vincent's and Tallaght Hospitals.

All this is happening at a time when we have millions of pounds in extra revenue. The sale of Telecom Éireann is about to take place, yet these people are being asked to suffer indefinitely. In the absence of the real Minister, I am sure Dr. Moffatt will give us reasons for this situation and try to make things sound as simple as possible.

The Minister may be going to Brussels as our Commissioner shortly. For the sake of the health service in the north-eastern region and because of his failure to finance it, I hope he goes. When he had the opportunity a few weeks ago, he failed to finance Monaghan General Hospital. I ask the Minister to give those who are suffering some hope that they will be called in the next few weeks and will not be allowed to suffer any longer.

I am delighted to be in a position to address the House tonight on behalf of my colleague, Deputy Cowen, Minister for Health and Children, and to clarify for the House the position in relation to waiting lists.

The North-Eastern Health Board has made a commitment in its 1999 service plan to improve significantly lengths of time patients are waiting for essential procedures. The board is currently pursuing a number of initiatives aimed at improving waiting times and, together with the new policy circular and guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Children at the instigation of my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, it is anticipated that waiting lists and, more importantly, waiting times for public patients awaiting treatment will be significantly improved.

In 1998 the North-Eastern Health Board approved a framework for the development of acute hospital services in the region and is currently working towards the full implementation of the developments contained in this plan. Towards accelerating implementation of the plan, the Minister, on 31 May 1999, approved the establishment of project teams to plan the devel opments identified for the Louth-Meath and Cavan-Monaghan hospital groups respectively.

The range and complexity of services in the region have been significantly developed and enhanced, and this in itself has contributed to the increase in their waiting lists. People from the North-Eastern Health Board area are now able to avail of treatment in their own region, whereas prior to the development of local services, these people were forced to travel outside their own area and thus were not appearing on the north-eastern waiting list.

The high rate of road traffic accidents and trauma in the region is also a significant factor in the north-east and should be considered when looking at the waiting list issue. The Deputy will be aware that there is a considerably higher number of road traffic accidents in this area than in any other part of the country and this has an impact on hospital services and waiting lists.

At national level, I regret to have to inform the House that the current national waiting list figures are a direct result of the ad hoc manner in which the previous Government handled the waiting list initiative. In 1997, an election year, the preceding Government reduced the funding to the waiting list initiative by 50 per cent on the previous year, allocating a mere £8 million compared with £12 allocated in 1996. This very significant reduction in dedicated funding to hospitals to enable them to carry out additional procedures, over and above their normal activity, resulted in this Government inheriting a chronic situation in relation to waiting lists.

The figures do not show that.

The Government is tackling the waiting list initiative in a structured and strategic manner. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that at the end of March 1999, the national waiting list figure fell by 1,887. This represents a reduction of 5.1 per cent since December 1998 and reverses the upward trend in waiting lists that started when the previous Government was in office.

This decrease extends across a large number of hospitals and specialties. It vindicates the approach the Minister, Deputy Cowen, has adopted since coming into office in addressing the issue of waiting lists in an integrated way, using a combination of short-term, medium-term and long-term initiatives to deal with both the immediate problem and the underlying causes that have been giving rise to it.

My colleague, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, has this year allocated a total of £20 million of dedicated funding to enable hospitals to provide treatments to patients who would otherwise have been waiting for significantly longer periods. This represents an increase of two thirds over the funding allocated for this purpose in 1998 and it is 2.5 times higher than the funding given by the previous Government in 1997.

As I mentioned, several important initiatives have been undertaken by the Government in relation to the management of the waiting list initiative. These include the issuing of a new policy circular and guidelines to all relevant agencies regarding the way in which the waiting list initiative should be operated, the provision of £9 million to services for older people and an allocation of £2 million to selected accident and emergency services. I am confident that these initiatives will continue to have a significant and positive impact on waiting lists for the remainder of the year, and more importantly that waiting times for public patients will be reduced.