Reducing waiting time for patients for hospital operations and procedures is a key priority for Government. In recent years, my Department has worked with the HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund and made considerable improvements to improve access for patients waiting for high volume procedures and life limiting procedures including cataracts.
At the end of July 2017, the number of people waiting for a cataract procedure was 10,024. Since then the numbers waiting have consistently improved and at the end of October 2019 they stand at 4,480. Of these, 494 patients are waiting over 9 months which represents a reduction of 90% when compared to July 2017, when the number waiting over 9 months stood at 4,371.
A key development to improve access to Ophthalmology services was the opening of a stand-alone high-volume consultant-led cataract theatre by the University of Limerick Hospital Group in Nenagh Hospital in 2018, with the intention that it would facilitate patients from surrounding geographical areas to avail of their treatment there. In this context, the HSE has advised that University of Limerick Hospital Group is working collaboratively with the South South-West Hospital Group to review over 1,000 patients on Ophthalmology waiting lists that may be suitable for cataract procedures in Nenagh.
More broadly, Budget 2020 announced that the Government has further increased investment in tackling waiting lists, with funding to the National Treatment Purchase fund increasing from €75 million in 2019 to €100 million in 2019. The year-on-year increases to the National Treatment Purchase Fund since Budget 2017 reflect this Government’s priority to improve waiting times for patients to access hospital treatment. The Department of Health is working with the HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund to develop the Scheduled Care Access Plan 2020, which will include ophthalmology services.
In this regard, I would encourage all hospital groups and individual hospitals to engage with the NTPF to identify waiting list proposals for the remainder of this year and for 2020.