I am conscious that waiting times are often unacceptably long and of the burden that this places on patients and their families. In this regard, the Government is committed to improving waiting times for hospital appointments and procedures.
The joint Department of Health/HSE/National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) Scheduled Care Access Plan 2019 was published in March and sets out measures to improve care for patients waiting for scheduled care in 2019 by reducing waiting times for inpatient/day case treatment and outpatient appointments.
The Access Plan sets out the activity levels for the NTPF, who will supply additionality to HSE activity in order to reduce waiting times experienced by patients for a hospital appointment, operation or procedure.
A key element of the Plan is the stabilisation of the Outpatient Waiting List. Under the Plan the HSE, in line with the National Service Plan, will aim to deliver 3.3 million outpatient appointments, of which approximately 1 million will be first appointments. For its part the NTPF will aim to deliver 40,000 first Outpatient appointments.
Furthermore, the Sláintecare Action Plan 2019 which was published by my Department, includes a specific workstream on Access and Waiting Lists. Sláintecare emphasises the need to invest in increased capacity while also shifting the balance of care from hospitals to community services for better health outcomes and a more sustainable health service. In addition, many of the other service reforms and enhancements included in Slaintecare will support timely access to care for patients in the coming years.
In line with Sláintecare objectives, my Department is working with the HSE and the NTPF, to develop medium-long term improvement initiatives for patient access to hospital procedures. This will include moving care to more appropriate settings and providing care at the lowest level of complexity. The HSE advise that one such example is a pilot scheme which commenced in January 2019 in Sligo University Hospital: the eight-week “Pain Management Education Programme” (PMEP) involves physiotherapy, psychology, and Pain Nurse-delivered education.
The NTPF advise that over recent months they have placed a particular focus on engaging with hospital groups and individual hospitals to identify outpatient waiting list proposals. To date in 2019, the NTPF have approved funding for pain management appointments in Tallaght, the Mater and St. Vincent’s hospitals, and welcomes proposals from all acute hospitals for initiatives to improve access for patients awaiting outpatient appointments.