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Simon Harris 'pleased to announce' Crumlin Hospital scoliosis theatre to open in April

It has emerged that there are an extra 80,000 people on hospital waiting lists outside the government’s official figures.

90424418_90424418 Leah Farrell / Leah Farrell / /

Updated 6.39pm

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has announced that a new operating theatre for the treatment of scoliosis is to open at Crumlin Children’s Hospital in April.

Speaking in the Dáil this evening, Harris said he was “pleased to announce” the opening. The announcement has come as an RTÉ Investigates programme claimed that patient waiting lists around the country are far larger than official estimates suggested.

The new theatre is to carry out 194 spinal operations, a significant increase on last year according to Harris.

The Minister also said that children on waiting lists must be treated within the scheduled wait time or have their case outsourced to private clinics for treatment.

He added that a HSE action plan on scoliosis is now to be delivered by the end of the month.

While the new theatre may be set to open, an older theatre closing means that capacity will not necessarily be greatly enhanced.


The HSE previously told that Crumlin hospital commenced using the new theatre in November 2016 “to enable training with new equipment and also to facilitate spinal surgery in the most up-to-date environment”.

Recruitment of nursing staff continues and until all staff are in place this theatre will not provide additional capacity.

A new orthopaedic surgeon hire is now set to be in place for the end of June, according to Harris.

Last night’s programme showcased how thousands of patients waiting for appointments and procedures in Irish hospitals are not included in the official waiting list figures.

The total number of people waiting on the inpatient/day case waiting list as published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) on the 30 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.

Speaking on Claire Byrne Live following the show, Health Minister Simon Harris defended the waiting list figures and rejected the idea that the government was not being open and fair on the issue.

He did say, however, that he was “ashamed” and “heartbroken” at the number of people waiting for treatment.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny told the Dáil today that Harris will speak to the heads of the Health Service Executive and the National Treatment Purchase Fund about the disclosure that many more patients were on the list than was first thought.

“I found it difficult to watch,” said Kenny, speaking about last night’s programme.

He outlined, that as of 31 January, there were 193 patients awaiting spinal procedures in Crumlin Children’s Hospital, of which 143 were for new spinal fusions.

On average there are additional 250 patients every year, he said.

He said the children’s hospital group confirmed there were 133 spinal fusions for scoliosis conducted in 2016, of which 44 were carried out by the private sector.

Waiting lists

The RTÉ programme delved into the personal stories of patients who have remained on waiting lists for a long period of time.

One of those on a waiting list is 13-year-old Megan who suffers from scoliosis, and 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.”

megan RTÉ Investigates RTÉ Investigates

Her mother said: “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 programme had a look at the numbers, which shows an extra 80,000 people on waiting lists that are not published by the State.

This included 22,927 on the Pre-Admit list, which details patients from across the country waiting up to 18 months on surgical procedures.

A further 59,843 patients on the Pre-Planned list which details patients who require follow-up treatment such as surgical-pin removal, cataract removal, hip replacement or even corrective spinal surgery.

People on this list can be waiting anywhere between six weeks to a year.

Simon Harris

Aired immediately after the programme, Simon Harris was interviewed on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live and defended the waiting list figures released by the government.

He said: “[Long waiting times] shouldn’t be happening. Having said that, we produce waiting list figures in this country every month.”

“They show, and they’re not produced by my department, the government or the HSE, they are produced by the national treatment purchase fund. They show how many people are waiting.” Byrne then drew his attention to the other, unpublished lists.

“But do they really?” Claire Byrne asked. “We have the official waiting list, and the pre-admit list and the pre-planned list.

There are over 80,000 people on these lists. They aren’t published, are they?

Harris didn’t respond directly but said: “Yes, they are additional, but I think you need to be careful how they are described. My understanding is that there are two types of people in those categories.

The first are people who have had procedures scheduled. These are people who finally get the phone call and now have a procedure booked. Secondly, there is a category of people who aren’t clinically able to go to the next stage of their procedure.

Byrne then asked: “Should we not, in the interests of fairness and openness, tell people in Ireland, rather than an RTÉ investigations unit going to find out, that these lists exist.

“I don’t think that is a fair categorisation,” the Health Minister replied. “Waiting lists are published monthly. They are audited. The NTPF follow international standards.

I don’t, by the way, dispute the figures. What I am saying is they do tell us something different.

He said that for people who have been contacted by a hospital and given an appointment within six weeks for their procedure, “that is very different”.

A HSE statement on the matter apologised to patients and said that it was “unacceptable that any patient in our care, particularly patients suffering and in pain should experience any difficulty in making contact with our hospitals”.

The HSE added that it will aim to ensure that no one is waiting longer than 18 months by the end of June this year.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Fianna Fáil Health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said we “simply don’t have the capacity” to meet demand in our hospitals. He also said hospital facilities were not being used efficiently.

Róisín Shortall also called for end to this “shameful scandal”.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil today that the scoliosis issue “is an absolute priority”.

He said more will be done, adding that the private sector will “assist with this”.

“The opening of a brand new theatre [at Crumlin Children's Hospital] is dependent upon the recruitment of adequately trained staff and, believe me, the efforts that are going on to have staff who are qualified to do this work are exceptional,” said Kenny.

Kenny said Minister Harris has called in the CEO of Crumlin Children’s Hospital to ask why an operating theatre has not been opened.

“This is an issue that the minister himself was upset about,” said the Taoiseach.

Additional reporting Cianan Brennan

Read: Stories of people on hospital waiting lists are “absolutely inexcusable”, says Simon Harris

Read: ‘We had to get up at 4am and travel nearly four hours so Mum could get chemo’

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