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Woman whose daughter was put on 249-week hospital waiting list 'thought figure was a typo'

A letter seen by The Journal states the waiting list for Midland Regional Hospital at Tullamore is “in excess of 249 weeks”.

File photo.
File photo.
Image: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland

A WOMAN WHOSE teenage daughter was put on a 249-week outpatient waiting list for Midland Regional Hospital at Tullamore has said that it “won’t be easy” if she now has to be seen privately. 

Toni, who lives in Kildare, said that her daughter will be an adult by the time she is scheduled to attend the appointment in over four-and-a-half years time.

She told The Journal that her daughter has regularly suffered from nosebleeds, but until recently they were never that serious. However, she said she began to experience dizziness after a nosebleed a few weeks ago.

“I brought her straight to the GP, and the GP wrote off to Tullamore Hospital. He said I won’t even bother putting you to Tallaght seeing that you can’t get in there at all. He said you’ll have much better luck in Tullamore. I doubt he knew it at the time,” she said. 

Toni said the letter arrived very quickly to inform her that her daughter had been placed on the out-patient waiting list.

The letter, seen by The Journal, states: “I wish to inform you that the current waiting list is in excess of 249 weeks. However, depending on the urgency of your referral an appointment may be issued before this time. If your condition deteriorates, you should make an appointment with your GP.”

Toni then contacted the hospital and asked if it was a typo, but she was informed that the figure was correct.

“I’ve always heard like, you know, that the patient lists were extremely long, but God, nearly five years is really something,” she said.

It’s just heartbreaking to see 249 weeks on a letter. And I remember looking at it first kind of going: ‘God, that’s nearly a year.’ And then I went: ‘Oh my god, that’s weeks’.

“And it says ‘in excess’ of 249 weeks, so what that means, I don’t know.”

The hospital gave her the name of two private doctors, but said otherwise, there was nothing they could do. 

She has a phone consultation with her GP on Monday, who she says will probably recommend her daughter is seen privately. 

“I won’t know how much that will be. I’d say my GP will write a letter to one of these doctors and I’ll probably get a letter from them stating how much it will be. Consultations are normally around €250 anyway,” she said.

“I’m a single mother and I work, but gosh, it’s not going to be easy, you know, having to do this privately if that’s the case. But if she needs it, she needs it and that’s it.”

‘Outrageous’

The waiting list for the hospital has been raised with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly in the Dáil several times, especially in the months following the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen raised the issue of another person waiting on an appointment in the hospital last week. 

Speaking to The Journal, he said the waiting list is “outrageous”. 

“I know we can’t hide the fact that the pandemic has had a huge impact, but notwithstanding that, there needs to be a specific plan and procedures put in place whereby people can see a pathway out of the present difficulties,” he said.

He said he has been in touch with the Health Minister and the HSE asking “what preparations are in place to put forward a solution and a mechanism by which this might be addressed”.

According to figures provided to Cowen by the Department, there were a total of 1,340 people on Tullamore Hospital’s outpatient waiting list last month. 184 people have been on the list for over 18 months. 

“If this has to go outside the norm, even beyond the National Treatment Purchase Fund into the private sector, or enter into arrangements with private sector providers, whatever, we need to see it.”

In May 2021, Sinn Féin spokesperson for older people Patricia Ryan TD asked the Health Minister to provide a figure for the number of people who were waiting for an appointment at the hospital. 

In the figures provided by Donnelly, which were up to 25 March 2021, there were a total of 7,530 people on the waiting list. 39 people had been on the list for over five years.

Ryan told The Journal that there are “huge problems” at the hospital.

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“I had a man contact me who was five years waiting for the ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant, and he had been to a consultant in a private hospital in December under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. He was told he’d be sent for an MRI in the near future, and six months later, he’s still waiting. It’s a massive problem currently and we’re constantly raising it,” she said.

She said she’s contacted regularly by older people and their families in her locality in relation to the hospital.

“The majority of issues are around older people languishing on waiting lists and being kept on trolleys for hours, and in some cases, days. We need to see solutions,” she said.

“Root and branch reform I suppose is what we would be looking for, and we need to talk to patients and staff on the ground and see what changes they feel are needed.”

In a statement to The Journal, a spokesperson for Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore said it is recognised that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“While significant work continues to positively impact on waiting times and improve pathways to elective care, acute hospitals have been impacted by operational challenges arising from surges in cases related to the Delta and Omicron variants and last year’s cyber-attack,” the statement said. 

The Hospital cannot comment on the individual matters and regrets that patients are experiencing prolonged waiting times to be seen for treatment as we prioritise those who are waiting longer and clinically urgent cases.

The statement said that progress has been achieved with regard to outpatient waiting lists at the hospital, but added that challenges “do exist in some specialities”.

“The Hospital has made every effort to minimise the impact of the operational challenges such as the pandemic and have included the prioritisation of time-sensitive treatments at all times and the use of a range of measures to increase capacity when feasible, outsourcing, virtual assessments, new clinical pathways and adoption of new technologies,” the statement continued. 

It added that the hospital is implementing the 2022 Waiting List Action Plan, launched in February 2022, and that it aims to achieve the national targets that no patient is waiting over 18 months by the end of the year. 

“The 2022 Waiting List Action Plan aims to deliver urgent and additional capacity to treat 1.7 million people as well as investing longer term reforms to bring sustained reductions in waiting lists. This is the first year of the multi-annual reform programme.”

About the author:

Jane Moore

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