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Stories of people on hospital waiting lists are "absolutely inexcusable", says Simon Harris

RTÉ Investigates reveals the painful reality behind the numbers on hospital waiting lists in Ireland.

Updated 6.30pm

THOUSANDS OF PATIENTS who are waiting for operations and procedures are not included in the waiting list figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), according to RTÉ Investigates.

This evening, in advance of the programme being screened, Minister for Health Simon Harris said that reducing waiting times for the longest waiting patients is one of the Government’s key priorities.

The total number of people waiting on the inpatient/day case waiting list as published by the NTPF on the 30 of December 2016 was 81,015.

However, RTÉ Investigates uncovered evidence that shows there are at least two other significant waiting lists which are not published by the NTPF.

RTÉ’s Living on the List documents the pain, suffering and frustration of a number of people who spend months and even years waiting to get an appointment or have an operation in the Irish public health system.

“The personal stories of the people waiting for treatment are deeply moving and the experiences they describe are absolutely inexcusable,” said Minister Harris. “The programme clearly illustrates the physical and emotional burden of waiting for long periods for both patients and their families.”

He said he is “keenly aware of this burden” and it is for this reason that last summer he requested that the HSE put in place an action plan to halve the number of patients waiting over 18 months for treatment.

“Last month, I announced the successful completion of this action plan with over 11,500 patients coming off the inpatient/daycase waiting list in the second half of 2016,” said the Minister.

However, I think it is important to note that, while there are still too many people who have to wait too long for their treatment, as of last December, only 2% of patients were waiting longer than 18 months for treatment. 93% were receiving treatment within 15 months and over half were receiving treatment within 6 months.

The Minister said that this year, he is determined that the HSE builds on last year’s progress and reduces waiting time for the longest waiters.

He said that capacity in the private acute hospital sector will be utilised to provide treatment for the longest waiting patients on the inpatient/daycase waiting list.

Harris has also asked the HSE to submit an action plan to improve waiting lists in the public acute hospital sector for inpatients and daycases and outpatients, which he expects to receive shortly.

Also this year, the HSE and the NTPF will work “strategically and collaboratively together” to ensure the best use of public and private hospital capacity to reduce patients waiting times, said the health minister.

In relation to concerns raised about the NTPF waiting list figures, the Minister stated:

The approach here is in line with international protocols but it is important the NTPF keeps its processes under regular review to ensure best practice and it is welcome the Fund is currently commissioning a research project examining updated international best practice around publication models and methodologies.

RTE Investigates - Living on the List - Sharon and Megan

Speaking to the media today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny says there has been an increase in funding to the National Treatment Purchase Fund and 11,000 people have come off the inpatient and day waiting lists.

When asked about the programme he said he had not seen it yet, but added, “it is not satisfactory”.

Nobody wants to see people in pain on waiting lists that are unnecessary.

The lists that are not published include the pre-planned list which contains thousands of patients who require follow up treatment including surgical-pin removal, cataract removal, hip replacement and corrective spinal surgery.

Patients on the pre-planned list are typically given indicative dates for their procedures. These dates can range from less than six weeks to more than 12 months. The breakdown of the figures on the list would indicate many of the indicative dates are not delivered on by the hospitals.

The second list is known as the pre-admit list. It too contains thousands of patients from across the country waiting up to 18 months on surgical procedures. Once again these numbers are not included in the monthly reports published by the NTPF.

shutterstock_454562404 Source: Shutterstock/ldutko

In a statement the NTPF said “in line with international best practices, published waiting list data excludes patients classified as Pre-Admit and Pre-Planned Procedures”. It also stated the NTPF is currently “examining updated international best practice around publication models”. This will include pre-admit and pre-planned procedures.

Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Billy Kelleher criticised the statement saying, “The NTPF would appear to be claiming that this is in line with best international practice. Well this may be an international practice but it is hardly the best?

Waiting lists are already shockingly high with the waiting list for scheduled procedures having rocketed from under 50,000 in 2013 to more than 80,000 in 2016.

He called on Health Minister Simon Harris to direct the NTPF to provide an accurate, clear and complete picture of the real state of waiting lists right way.

‘She doesn’t have to be like this’

One of the patients on a waiting list is 13-year-old Megan who suffers from scoliosis, her spinal curvature means she now finds it almost impossible to attend school.

Megan described how she can feel sick with the pain and the programme revealed how she is forced to endure it while waiting for her surgery. Megan said, “I’m just sick of this stupid thing.”

RTE Investigates - Living on the List - Megan aged 13 Source: RTÉ Investigates

Talking about how her condition is affecting the whole family and her mother, Megan said:

It makes me really sad because I don’t want to see her upset and I feel like it’s somehow my fault. I just want my surgery, it’s not fair.

Her mother said, “It’s not fair for any child to have to go through this when it can be rectified with surgery, she doesn’t have to be like this.

All she needs is her surgery and this will go away and she can start her life again and she’s not having her surgery, she doesn’t have a date. We’re still in limbo.

The show also documents how as time passes, conditions worsen. Two years ago Megan only had a 20 degree curve but now and it’s an s- shape.

Megan spine Source: RTÉ Investigates

Megan’s mother added, “It’s just frustrating beyond belief.”

Living on a List, which follows the stories of a number of patients, will air on RTÉ One at 9.35pm tonight

Additional reporting by Christina Finn and Aoife Barry.

Read: ’Shocking and indefensible’: 1 in 14 priests in Australia accused of child abuse>

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