Press Release

Fall in waiting times

National Treatment Purchase Fund given new responsibilities

Tuesday 4th May, 2004: The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) has reported that waiting times have fallen significantly with 37% of patients now waiting between 3 and 6 months and 43% waiting between 6 and 12 months for surgery. 80% of patients now wait less than one year for surgical treatment. This represents a major reduction in the length of time patients have to wait.

The Fund has indicated that in:

January 2003

39% of patients waited over 12 months

16% of patients waited over 24 months

January 2004

20% of patients wait over 12 months

2.5% are waiting over 24 months.

The NTPF has a multi-disciplinary team who have been working with individual hospitals to identify patients on waiting lists. The NTPF has undertaken validation of those waiting longest for treatment and this suggests that the figures reported to the Department of Health and Children overstate the number of persons who are available for treatment.

The Department, in consultation with the NTPF, has carried out a comparative analysis of the number of patients reported to be waiting for surgical treatments. It has become clear that the number of patients reported to the Department includes patients who are not actually waiting or available for treatment.

The Minister has announced the transfer of responsibility for the recording and publishing of waiting list figures to the NTPF. The national waiting list figure, as reported by health agencies to the Department, was 27,318 as at end December 2003. This figure has been subject to the NTPF’s validation process. The NTPF, in conjunction with the Department and health agencies, has undertaken a verification process which takes account of the constant movement of patients on and off lists – “the flow factor”:

  • Patients not available for treatment
  • Patients not medically suitable to undergo treatment
  • Patients no longer requiring treatment
  • Patients postponing treatment at their own request

Due to the above factors the NTPF has verified that a large numbers of patients, in the region of 4,500, can be removed from the Department’s reported figure.


The NTPF has identified a group of 19,591 patients who are reported to be waiting more than 3 months for specific procedures (mainly surgical). A certain percentage of this group of patients is expected to be removed through further validation. By arranging an estimated 12,000 treatments in 2004 the NTPF will make further significant progress in reducing the average waiting times for surgical procedures.

In addition, approximately 3,000 patients have been reported to the Department as waiting for admission to hospital for various non-surgical procedures and investigations. The classification of these cases is under review by a joint working group.

Waiting Times

The NTPF has substantial capacity to treat patients and will continue to focus on reducing waiting times even further. The Fund´s target is to treat over 12,000 this year and has the capacity to treat a minimum of 1,000 patients per month (800 in Ireland and 200 in 4 private hospitals in the England). Maintaining referrals at this level will result in waiting times for surgical operations being reduced in line with the Health Strategy targets of 3-6 months. Currently, the vast majority hospitals now refer patients waiting between 6 and 12 months:

9 hospitals (38%) referring patient waiting 3 – 6 months
11 hospitals (46%) referring patients waiting 6 – 12 months
4 hospitals (16%) referring patients waiting 12 – 24 months

Acute Hospital Activity – Over one million hospital patients treated

The reported number of patients on hospital waiting lists must be seen in the context of a continuing increase in the number of people treated in public hospitals. In fact, the number of people discharged from hospital having been treated as either an in-patient or as a day case in 2003 was over one million. This is the first time that the number has exceeded one million and represents a 4.7% increase over 2002.

Commenting on the announcement the Minister for Health, Mr Micheál Martin, TD, said: “Much progress has been made to get the waiting times down and we are on track to achieve the Health Strategy targets. The transfer of responsibility for waiting list figures to the NTPF will result in a more accurate and complete picture of the numbers waiting and more importantly the length of time they are waiting for their procedures. The important issue is that patients wait for treatment for the shortest possible time and that the actual lists tell us correctly how many patients are available for treatment”.

Commenting on the reduction in patients’ waiting times, Maureen Lynott, Director of the NTPF said, “Patients should not have to wait an unacceptable length of time for their treatment. One of our first patients had waited over eight years for her operation but now 80% are waiting less than a year. Treatment can be fast-tracked for patients who are willing to travel outside their local hospital or health board area. We will continue to work towards the Health Strategy target and reduce the waiting times for patients even more.”