Press Release

Hospital Waiting List figures for end December 1999 quarter announced

Mr Micheál Martin T.D., Minister for Health and Children, today (Tuesday 29 February) announced that public hospital waiting list figures stood at 36,855 at the end of December last. This is just below the corresponding December 1998 figure of 36,883. The Minister expressed disappointment at the figures.

“While I appreciate that there were extraordinary circumstances in the last quarter of 1999, it is disappointing that the good progress that had been made in achieving a 9% reduction in numbers over the first three quarters of 1999 has been undone.” he said.

Minister Martin re-iterated the major priority that he was attaching to achieving reductions in waiting lists and waiting times.

“There is a need now to tackle this issue in a determined way, drawing on the resources available throughout the system in a more creative and flexible manner. I will be asking the new Eastern Regional Health Authority, the other agencies and my own Department to work closely in developing proposals that can achieve this. There is, I believe, real potential for achieving improvement through better collaborative arrangements between and more closely integrated management of the different parts of the system. The report of the Expert Group on the Waiting List Initiative clearly set out the requirement for this more integrated approach. I am presently reviewing progress in the implementation of the various recommendations in that report. The signs over the first three quarters of last year were that measurable progress was being made, although some of the longer term measures will by their nature take more time to bear fruit.

“I intend to give renewed urgency to the implementation of those recommendations. I will be clearly communicating my requirements in my contacts with the CEOs and I have already taken steps to mirror the integrated approach required in the organisational arrangements in place within my own Department for tackling the problem.”

The Minister pointed to the fact that within the overall waiting list returns for the end December quarter, there were major variations in performance between different hospitals and across specialities, with very encouraging performances evident in some cases.

“The fact that some hospitals have fared better than others and that different rates of progress are being made in different specialities is something that I will be examining more closely in reviewing performances and planning ahead. Clearly there are initiatives taken that have worked in certain hospitals or specialities and there may be scope for applying those more widely. Similarly, the factors that have led to relatively poor performances have to be identified and addressed. In allocating further funding under the Waiting List Initiative we have to take proper account of the capacity of agencies to deliver the goods, based on a meaningful analysis of what is happening in the system now. In this way, resources can be directed in a manner that will achieve the best overall gains.

The Minister said that in addition to the immediate practical steps that he saw as having potential to improve waiting times for access to services, there were longer term infrastructural issues that would need to be addressed under the National Development Plan.

“Step-down, rehabilitation, long stay and community facilities all need to be developed to alleviate pressures on the acute system. The availability of £1 billion for infrastructural developments in the non-acute sector under the NDP will allow us to make major progress on this front. In addition, the bed capacity of the acute sector itself needs to be reviewed against a background of population growth and other demographic changes. The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness contains an explicit commitment to do this and I will be immediately actioning that.

“While lengthy waiting lists and waiting times have unfortunately been an enduring feature of the hospital system here and elsewhere, there is no reason to accept them as inevitable. In the current economic climate it is simply not tolerable to people that they should settle for a reduced quality of life as a result of problems of accessibility to fundamental public services. With concerted effort, there is much that we can now achieve in realising the potential for major improvement.”, the Minister concluded.