Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Ceisteanna (53)

Anne Rabbitte


53. Deputy Anne Rabbitte asked the Minister for Health the reason 3,135 persons have been waiting for an outpatient consultation in University Hospital Galway since before 1 January 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5258/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Health)

Why have 3,135 persons have been waiting for an outpatient consultation at University Hospital Galway since before January 2017? Will the Minister for Health make a statement on the matter?

I thank Deputy Rabbitte for raising this matter. It is quite timely because improving access to hospital appointments and procedures is a key commitment of Government and of hers. As a result of some of the work we have done together in recent budgets I hope to publish the joint Department of Health, HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, scheduled care access plan 2019 shortly. This will set out commitments aimed at improving access for patients waiting for hospital operations or procedures. We have made a lot of progress on that side over recent months and years. It will also set out commitments for patients waiting this year for a first outpatient appointment, in keeping with the HSE national service plan and the increased funding totalling €75 million given to the NTPF this year.

Access to outpatient services remains a significant challenge although we have seen significant reductions in the number of people waiting for an operation or procedure, but outpatients remain the big challenge. That is what we need to focus on. In 2019, more than 3.3 million patients will attend HSE outpatient clinics while the NTPF will fund an additional 40,000 first outpatient appointments.

The outpatient waiting list figures for the end of December for University Hospital Galway show that there were more than 39,000 patients waiting for a first appointment, 71% of whom were waiting 12 months or less. These numbers are still far too high. There has been some stabilisation of the waiting list compared with December 2017.

Last year I met the CEOs of all hospital groups, including the Saolta hospital group, which has responsibility for Galway, and asked them to come up with outpatient initiatives, including the use of virtual clinics to address outpatient waiting lists so that we can fund new initiatives this year. Some progress has been made by the Saolta hospital group as a result of new initiatives, including an 11% reduction in the number of patients waiting in excess of nine months for an ear, nose and throat, ENT, appointment, a 30% reduction in those waiting over nine months for a rheumatology appointment, and a 42% reduction in the number of children waiting more than nine months for a paediatrics appointment. The Deputy's question is timely because we are finalising the outpatients plan, and in light of her raising this issue, I will specifically and personally consider the issues at University Hospital Galway and make sure that Saolta is bringing forward plans to benefit from the additional outpatient funding available in 2019.

The Minister's response is very welcome. There are long waiting lists of 12 months or more in many outpatient departments: urology, orthopaedics, paediatrics, plastic surgery, respiratory, dermatology and gynaecology. This comes up daily in my clinic as people try to get their first appointment. People are very frustrated. If the Minister could link with, and make a priority of, the Saolta group, we could put pressure on to ensure this is not put on the long finger but is delivered as quickly as possible. That would bring great comfort to many in the west. The hospital is a centre of excellence. It is a level four hospital and covers Donegal, Roscommon and Mayo as well as Galway. It is vital that the NTPF considers the outpatients department as quickly as possible.

I agree with what the Deputy said. I assure her that we will do that. I will take the opportunity to put some of the new measures to deal with outpatient waiting lists that are being tried in the University Hospital Galway on the record of the House. There is a urology pathway pilot scheme which should result in significant progress on wait times. The plastic surgery service in Galway has been running an innovative "see and treat" clinic. This involves patients attending outpatient appointments and, where a minor surgical intervention is required, receiving it on the same day. Approximately 220 patients were treated in this way last year. The National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, agreed to fund this initiative from September 2018 onward, with an additional 143 patients accessing the service. Galway University Hospital has also put in place virtual clinics for ear, nose and throat, ENT, and vascular services. This is only appropriate for certain conditions, but should result in an improvement.

We have an issue with patients not attending and the hospital is working on this. Some 8,494 new patients and 28,689 review patients did not turn up for their appointments in Galway University Hospital in 2018. I am not blaming the patients but these figures show that there is a need to maximise attendance. The hospital is looking at a text reminder service and at overbooking clinics so that, if some people do not turn up, another patient will be waiting to be seen. Saolta is going to continue to work on that. I will certainly reflect on the Deputy's comments. We will make sure that Saolta and Galway benefit from the additional resources we have in place for outpatients and inpatients for 2019.

I would have liked the Minister to address the issue of paediatric diabetics in Galway University Hospital in his commentary. Perhaps he can come at it again. This is an ongoing issue. Patients have to go to Limerick or Dublin for some services. It is an ongoing outpatient issue. Perhaps it is due to hospital appointments or something like that - I do not know - but this issue, which affects children, is often raised in my office. I welcome the fact that progress is being made in the area of ENT services. Issues with the ears, nose and throat can affect everyone from the very young to older adults. Everything the Minister has said today is welcome, but action on delivery is what we are really looking for. The results will only be known when the figures come to hand.

I thank Deputy Rabbitte for raising the specific issue of paediatric diabetics. I will certainly look into it and either myself or the HSE will revert to her directly to see if we can make improvements in that regard. I thank the Deputy very much for highlighting the issue.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.