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.
Last year saw considerable improvement in the number of patients waiting for procedures. As a result of increased activity and the ongoing collaboration between the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), the number of patients waiting for an Inpatient or Day case procedure fell to 70,204 in December 2018, from a peak of 86,100 in July 2017. This represents a reduction of over 18% in the overall number of patients waiting for a procedure. The number of patients waiting more than 3 months fell by more than 17,700, or 31% in the same period from July 2017 to the end of December 2018.
Budget 2019 announced that the Government had further increased investment in tackling waiting lists, with funding to the NTPF increasing from €55 million in 2018 to €75 million in 2019. The joint Department of Health, HSE, and NTPF Scheduled Care Access Plan 2019 was published in March.
In terms of locations with highest numbers on waiting lists, the latest NTPF figures show that there are 15,947 patients on Saolta University Healthcare Group IPDC waiting list. This represents a 15% (-2,801) decrease when compared to the same period last year. The NTPF figures also show that there are 14,282 patients on the Ireland East Hospital Group IPDC Waiting List. This shows an 11% (1,727) decrease when compared to the same period last year.
The latest NTPF figures show that there are 114,609 patients on the South/South West Hospital Group Outpatient Waiting List. The NTPF figures also show that there are 109,543 on the Ireland East Hospital Group Outpatient Waiting List.
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.
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.