NTPF waiting lists nears one million, IHCA warns

An additional 11,844 patients joined NTPF lists last month as the virus continues to spread

Almost one-fifth of the population could soon be on a waiting list for treatment in a public hospital, the country’s leading doctors have warned.

With latest figures showing 808,447 patients currently in the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) queue as either outpatients or inpatients, the President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), Dr Donal O’Hanlon, said the Government and the health service management must now work with the IHCA to tackle the list in face of the ongoing pandemic.

Noting that an additional 11,844 patients joined NTPF lists last month as the virus continued to spread across the country, Dr O’Hanlon said: “The impact of the Covid-19 crisis means we now face the worrying prospect of having one million people on NTPF waiting lists for treatment in our public hospitals.”

But he said the public health system had faced significant challenges at the start of the year, three months before the pandemic reached Ireland.
“Blaming this situation on the Covid-19 virus, does not represent the truth,” he added.

“We came into 2020 with our public acute hospital service on life support – short on beds, short on consultants and short on financial supports to address it. We cannot continue with those gaping deficits.

“Years of persistent underinvestment in bed capacity and consultant recruitment and retention has led us to the point where our acute public hospitals are simply unable to cope with the demands they now face,” he warned.

Figures for May 2020 also showed that 575,863 outpatients nationally were waiting to be seen by a consultant, an increase of 8,534 (1.5%) on last month and of 22,429 (4.1%) since the start of the year. Some 86,946 were wating for inpatient/day case treatment, an increase of 603 or 0.7 per cent on last month, while there has been additional 20,241 (30.3%) patients since the start of the pandemic in March.

The IHCA is calling for any Programme for Government agreed to by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party to include “clear financial commitments to open additional beds and fill hospital consultant posts to tackle the waiting list backlog and plan for continued delivery of care in a Covid-19 environment”.

Ireland, the association claimed, has one of the lowest numbers of public hospital beds and hospital consultants in the European Union, adjusted for population levels.

“With a new Programme for Government due to be agreed by the three negotiation parties, the IHCA is calling for realistic, practical plans to provide public hospital and community care in the coming months,” a spokesman said.

“This is essential for the delivery of timely care to patients in our acute public hospitals and must be top of the Government’s agenda. It is now accepted that the pace of implementing the 2018 Capacity Review and the National Development Plan has been far too slow and needs to be accelerated to open the recommended additional 2,600 acute public hospital beds and the additional 4,500 community step down and rehab beds in the shortest possible timeframe.”

The IHCA is also calling for previously closed acute hospital beds, which were reopened in the past three months to cater for the Covid-19 crisis, to remain open on a permanent basis.

peter.doyle@imt.ie

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