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IHCA calls on Department to increase NTPF funding for diagnostic scans Archive.php

The IHCA has warned of the potential impact on patient outcomes from new restrictions on the issuing of vouchers for diagnostic scans by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

The IHCA has learned that the NTPF paused the commissioning of CTs, MRIs and ultrasounds at the end of February because it was already approaching its funding limit for 2024 due to an unprecedented level of demand. Currently there are more than 260,000 people on diagnostic waiting lists.

On 29 February, the NTPF informed the HSE that while it had funding to arrange 70,000 radiology scans nationally in 2024, some 55,000 voucher codes for scans had already issued to hospitals.

The NTPF issues emergency diagnostic authorisation numbers (EDANs) to hospitals to carry out diagnostic tests, with each EDAN redeemable for one scan. At the end of February, the NTPF informed the HSE it was unable to issue any new diagnostic vouchers to hospitals despite requests for them, and that no new initiatives would be approved for 2024.

At the time, it is understood some hospitals had already exceeded their EDAN voucher allocations for certain types of scans and were in the process of ‘retracting’ a number of arranged scans for patients that were due to be carried out by private providers, according to the IHCA.

In correspondence sent to the IHCA, the NTPF said it appreciated the “significant concern” that this move had caused consultants. However, it explained that the “unprecedented demand” for scans meant that a “temporary pause has been placed on the routine issuing of EDANs while additional funding is being sought by the HSE”.

The development comes as a new analysis from the IHCA shows more than 75,700 people have been added to diagnostic waiting lists over the past four years – an increase of 41 per cent since the end of 2019.

There were more than 260,000 people on waiting lists for diagnostic scans at the end of 2023, with a fifth (53,600) waiting over a year for tests.

The Government’s 2023 Waiting List Action Plan included funding of €11 million for the NTPF to arrange 65,000 diagnostic scans. The NTPF confirmed that funding has been provided for 70,000 scans in 2024.

IHCA President Prof Rob Landers said: “The Association is extremely concerned that the NTPF has decided to pause and ration these diagnostic scans for the remainder of 2024, due to a lack of available funds. This is occurring against a backdrop of over 260,000 people currently on waiting lists for essential hospital diagnostics.

“The withdrawal of the scheme is also counterproductive given that the NTPF continues to fund other clinical waiting lists initiatives which serve to generate more radiology requests.

“The NTPF is a sticking plaster which only serves to highlight the many deficiencies in our public health service. However, given that this may be the only avenue currently available to secure timely care for patients, the outsourcing and insourcing of treatment or diagnostic scans remains a vital option.

“Although the EDANs specifically cover diagnostic radiology, it must be acknowledged that waiting lists will also be negatively impacted in specialties such as histopathology and for other laboratory diagnostics due to ongoing funding pressures.

“The HSE wants to ‘progress towards’ achieving the waiting time target of 10 days for diagnostics as outlined in the Sláintecare report. In reality, waiting times are steadily getting worse, with the HSE unable to indicate when such targets are ever likely to be met.

“The high number of people waiting for procedures such as CTs, MRIs and ultrasounds is especially concerning given that these diagnostic tests are used to either confirm or rule out a disease or condition, including cancer. If these tests are being delayed by months or, in a fifth of cases, for more than a year, it could have a significant impact on patient outcomes.

“Failure to provide outpatient radiology will also lead to increased acute patient presentations to Emergency Departments and longer lengths of stay in hospital in order to get scans completed. This will only compound the current overcrowding crisis and result in a failure of admission avoidance pathways.”

Earlier this month, the Department stated that since the “pandemic peaks” there had been an approximate 26 per cent reduction in the number of people waiting longer than Sláintecare targets (relating to inpatient/day cases, GI scopes, and outpatient appointments). It said funding of €437 million has been allocated “to address waiting lists” in 2024.  

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The Medical Independent 11th June 2024

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