Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD has accused the government of callous inertia over Sláintecare health reforms, as new figures show that record numbers of people are on waiting lists for medical treatment.
Deputy Shortall was commenting as the latest figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund show that more than 707,000 people are on waiting lists to be treated or seen by a doctor – the highest number recorded to date.
Deputy Shortall said:
“The Taoiseach and the Minister for Health are presiding over a health system in tatters, with unprecedented waiting lists for medical treatment, a year-round trolley crisis, the ongoing CervicalCheck crisis, and an appalling lack of emergency support services for young people with serious mental health issues.
“We can’t sit back and accept this situation as normal. The government’s callous inertia when it comes to radical health reform must be called out for what it is. The Minister for Health Simon Harris is paying little more than lip-service to Sláintecare, the fully costed 10-year health reform plan published over a year ago with unprecedented cross-party political backing.”
Deputy Shortall said the Government cannot continue with their blatant disregard for the suffering of public patients waiting for essential health services. She proposed the following immediate steps to tackle medical treatment waiting lists:
- Free up hospital beds by using all existing spare capacity in community services, private nursing homes and HSE-run premises. At any one time there are about 500 to 600 delayed discharges in our acute hospitals. These patients are ready to leave acute hospitals but are awaiting step down services in the community or in nursing homes.
- More efficient bed management at hospital group level so that patients can be transferred between hospitals within the same group where there is spare capacity. The pioneering approach of the RCSI Hospital Group covering north Dublin and the north east is making a huge difference and other hospitals should be required by the Department of Health to take the same approach.
- Accelerate the roll out new community-based models of care such as the “Sligo Model” of eye-care to cut the average waiting lists for cataract surgery. Currently there is a two-year waiting time for public patients. This model shifts routine care away from acute hospitals to optometrists in primary care settings. This is the model of eye-care used elsewhere in Europe, and it should be rolled out based on its success in Sligo where waiting lists for cataract surgery have been cut to the shortest in the country.
- There are many examples of where diagnostic services and procedures can be carried out at local primary care level which would drastically cut waiting lists and which would be much better value for money. This is the approach outlined in Sláintecare. What is needed now is the political will to implement it in full.