One in five people on hospital waiting lists in Galway have been enduring "pain and discomfort for a least a year" waiting for treatment, a situation one Galway TD has described as "a terrible statistic in a First World country”.
According to Independent Galway West TD Noel Grealish, at the beginning of October, close to 2,500 people were waiting 18 months or more for outpatient treatment, with 549 waiting for inpatient or day case operations for the same length of time. Further problems arise in that UHG is potentially facing fines of almost €1.2 million for not meeting the Government’s target of an 18-months maximum waiting time.
However Dep Grealish says that in many respects this is not the fault of the hospital, but rather the result of and fault with current Government policy and thinking towards dealing with waiting lists.
The Department of Health’s 18-month maximum waiting time applies since the end of June, but Health Minister Leo Varadkar is demanding this be further reduced to 15 months by the end of the year. However Dep Grealish said the current Government approach to targeting waiting lists is failing, and leading to "an endless round of catch-22 situations", with hospitals being fined for not achieving targets, and that money coming out of their budget, "leaving them short of funds to try meet those targets".
As a result, Dep Grealish is calling for the reintroduction of the National Treatment Purchase Fund scheme - as a way of cutting growing waiting times at UHG - which allowed patients waiting for hospital treatment to have operations carried out in a private hospital.
The Carnmore based TD said that in the nine years the NTPF ran, it enabled 22,619 people get off the waiting lists in Galway by being treated in private hospitals. The scheme was replaced in 2011 in favour of a Special Delivery Unit to target waiting lists, but Dep Grealish argues that the new scheme has failed, with inpatient and day case operations rising from 886 at the end of January to 2,300 now, and another 7,000+ waiting at least 12 months for outpatient treatment.
Of those waiting more than a year for inpatient or day case operations, Dep Grealish said ophthalmology cases topped the list (580 ), followed by oral surgery (313 ), ENT (261 ) and plastic surgery (254 ). Those waiting for pain relief totalled 176. Top of the 12-months-plus list for outpatients are those waiting for orthopaedic treatment (1,498 ), urology (737 ), and gynaecology (745 ).
"The idea of moving long-wait patients off the lists and getting them treated in private hospitals helped more than 22,000 people in Galway before, the highest number of any county outside Dublin," he said, "and it’s the only fast-action solution to the problem today."