Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Ceisteanna (47)

Dara Calleary


47. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Health the action being taken to reduce waiting times for dietician consultations in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5401/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (4 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Health)

At the end of October, we received information from the Minister that 635 people were on waiting lists for dietician services in County Mayo and that 226 of them had been waiting for more than a year. This affects every cohort of the population, including teenagers and older people, with conditions linked to obesity and diabetes. What plans does the Minister have in place to address these waiting lists? What is the current state of the dietician service in County Mayo?

I thank Deputy Calleary for the question. In line with the all-party vision set out under Sláintecare, the Government is prioritising investment in the expansion of primary care services, including dietetics. Overall funding for primary care increased by more than €50 million, or 6.1%, in the HSE's national service plan for 2019. Among other things, this will enable the recruitment of additional nurses, therapists and other health professionals such as dieticians. I acknowledge the role of Deputy Calleary's party on this during the budgetary process.

I understand that the dietician service in Mayo has been under particular pressure as some staff are on extended leave, while the number of referrals rose significantly during 2018 to 830 compared with 425 in 2017. Nonetheless, despite these pressures, the number of individuals waiting for treatment fell from 700 at the end of 2017 to 523 at the end of 2018, a reduction of 25%. I recognise a large number of people are still waiting, and although such progress is to be welcomed, the numbers waiting to access this important service are still too high. I am very aware of the stress this can cause to families.

With regard to measures now being taken specifically to improve access times further in County Mayo, I can inform the Deputy that community healthcare area west recently completed panel interviews for senior dietician posts, which will fill two dietetics vacancies in Mayo, and dieticians are adapting their working methods by using web texts and opt-in letters to enable them to plan clinics more effectively. Although it is too early to determine the impact of these measures, it is anticipated that they will help to improve access times throughout the county during 2019.

I have asked the HSE to outline specifically the impact of these measures on waiting times for those seeking the service in County Mayo in 2019, and it has said it will revert to the Deputy directly.

I welcome the news of the appointment of two new dieticians. Will the Minister confirm the timeline for these appointments? When will they take up their positions? Will they be assigned to cover the entire county? How many of the 523 people on waiting lists in 2018 had been on it for more than one year and how many were under the age of 18? I ask that particular emphasis be placed on the cohort aged under 18 so their treatment is prioritised. This is causing concern to a number of my constituents, including parents of children with particular difficulties. Given the focus we have as a nation on obesity, early intervention through this service is crucial to preventing conditions such as diabetes taking hold down the line.

Some of my statistics are not exactly in the order the Deputy has asked for, but I will get the information for him from the HSE. The number of clients waiting for treatment at the end of 2018 was down to 523 from 700 in 2017. Of these, the number waiting for more than 26 weeks was 216. I will try to get the Deputy more information. I do not have information in my briefing on those under the age of 18 but I will get it for the Deputy.

At present, four dieticians work in County Mayo, with three other staff on extended leave, which has led to significant pressures. We now have two additional appointments, which will bring the number back to six. I am told the appointments are to be made shortly and I will get a specific timeframe for the Deputy. I will ask the HSE to revert to him on this and ask that it pays particular attention to the cohort aged under 18.

With regard to the other innovative developments that local staff have introduced in Mayo, which are to be welcomed, the opt-in letters are issued to those who have been waiting a long time to check whether they are still in need of the dietetic service in primary care. This makes better use of the dieticians' time. Web texts now issue approximately one to three days before an appointment reminding clients of the date, time and location of their clinic to help avoid issues of non-attendance. I pay tribute to the local HSE Mayo staff for these innovations.