Press Release

Minister Martin announces significant reductions in the number of patients waiting longest for hospital treatment

Waiting List Data

In-Patient Waiting Lists

Figures released today (22nd May, 2003) by the Minister for Health and Children show that hospital in-patient waiting list figures stood at 18,390 at the end of December, 2002. This figure represents just over 3% of all in-patients who were discharged from acute hospitals during 2002.

The in-patient waiting list figure represents the number of patients waiting for admission to hospital for treatment involving at least one overnight stay in hospital. It shows a decrease of 846 (4.4%) in the in-patient waiting list between September and December 2002. It also represents a decrease of 3,184 or 15% of the in-patient only waiting list between June and December 2002.

Adults Waiting Times for In-patient Treatment

There has been a significant reduction in the number of adults waiting longest for in-patient treatment. The total number of adults waiting more than 12 months for in-patient treatment in the nine target surgical specialties has fallen by 30% from 7,402 to 5,209 in the period June to December 2002. Some individual specialties have shown greater reductions. For example, the specialty of Cardiac Surgery showed a reduction of 47% in the numbers waiting more than 12 months in the period June 2002 to December 2002 while the specialty of Gynaecology showed a decrease of 45% in the same period.

In-Patient Waiting Times for Children

The total number of children waiting for more than 6 months for in-patient treatment has fallen by over 31% (from 1,576 to 1,081) between June and December 2002. The most significant reductions have been seen in the specialties of General Surgery and Plastic Surgery where the number of children waiting more than 6 months for treatment has fallen by 52% and 44% respectively in the period.

Health Boards

Some Health Boards have achieved reductions in their in-patient waiting lists in the period, most notably – the Southern Health Board down 25% and the Midland Health Board down 24%.

The Eastern Regional Health Authority has reported a near 3% reduction in the in-patient waiting list between September and December 2002. This has been achieved at a time when the acute hospital system has been under pressure from increased demands on emergency services and from the effects on services of the Norovirus (SRSV) or “Winter Vomiting Bug”.

Comparison with December 2001

Direct comparison between December 2002 and December 2001 of in-patient and day case data is not possible as previously such data was not recorded separately. However, using the same classification and recording procedures of waiting list figures published in previous years (which excluded certain day case waiting lists) the comparable waiting list total figure for December 2002 equates to 22,168. This figure represents a reduction of 3,958 or 15% in waiting list numbers relative to the comparable figure for December 2001.

Day Case Waiting Lists

As previously indicated, health agencies have been reporting in-patient and day case waiting lists separately since September 2002 in order to more fully reflect emerging trends, particularly with regard to surgical interventions and diagnostic procedures which are increasingly being carried out on a day basis. The increase in the day case figure reflects the increasing ability of the hospital system to treat more patients on a day basis. In fact, approximately 50% of all elective surgery in acute public hospitals is now carried out on a day basis.

As at 31st December, 2002 there were 10,627 people waiting for admission to an acute public hospital as a day case to undergo a procedure, treatment or diagnostic test and who would be discharged from hospital on the same day. This figure represents an increase of 689 from September 2002 to December 2002. Care has to be taken in relation to the interpretation of these figures as it includes over 6,000 patients who are awaiting minor procedures and diagnostic tests which have not been taken into account since the commencement of the Waiting List Initiative in 1993. The Department of Health and Children is continuing to work with health agencies and the National Treatment Purchase Fund to clarify definitional issues surrounding day case work which will allow consistent and comparative analysis across the hospital system.

National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF)

To date more than 4,200 patients have received treatment under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. This achievement would not have been possible without the co-operation of hospital consultants, General Practitioners, nurses and other staff with the NTPF. The NTPF has reported that some 1,800 patients, who no longer required treatment, were also removed from long waiting lists through the validation process. The NTPF target for 2003 is to treat up to 8,000 patients on the basis of approximately 400 cases per month in Ireland and approximately 200 cases per month in the United Kingdom.

“The latest set of waiting list figures show that significant reductions are being achieved in the numbers of adults and children waiting longest for in-patient treatment. The figures reflect the impact of the investment of €74 million through the Waiting List Initiative and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) which has had a significant effect in reducing the number of patients waiting longest for treatment and reflects well on the system generally and the NTPF. I would encourage people who are waiting more than 12 months for hospital treatment to contact the National Treatment Purchase Fund to avail of the opportunities being offered.” the Minister said.

New Proposals for the Management of Waiting Lists

The experience of the NTPF has proved invaluable in the detailed assessment of those patients reported to be on waiting lists for longer than 12 months. The NTPF has reported that of the 11,400 adults and children identified in March 2002 as waiting more than 12 months for treatment by the Fund some 40% were removed from the waiting lists through a validation process where patients no longer required treatment. The work of the NTPF has raised issues in relation to the accuracy of numbers reported to be waiting longer than 12 months for treatment. As a result the Minister, in consultation with the NTPF, ERHA and the Health Boards, will soon bring forward proposals for a new system of management and organisation of waiting lists nationally. The Minister envisages that the NTPF will become fully responsible for the administration and management of all acute hospital waiting lists.

Department´s Web Site

A complete breakdown of the in-patient waiting list and the day case waiting list by hospital and specialty as at 31st December 2002 is on the Department´s web site.