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Of these, over 12,000 have been waiting more than a year for an inpatient appointment, with ophthalmology and orthopaedics toping the list, while 65,000 have also been waiting over a year for an outpatient appointment.
Former Minister for Health Leo Varadkar pledged to eliminate treatment wait times of 18 months or more by June last year, and to have a maximum waiting time of 15 months by last September and then by year end. Derisory targets by anyone’s standards, and a far cry from his predecessor’s targets of six and nine months, yet even these have failed to be met.
In fact, the number of people waiting over 12 months and even 18 months has soared in the last year.
There have been multiple ‘outsourcing’ arrangements in the last decade to help address the waiting list problem. Last year they made some impact but once the money stopped, waiting lists again steadily crept up.
The NTPF is now being reactivated to fulfill its original remit and is being mooted as the solution. While it was very successful in its day, outsourcing does not solve the issue in the long term — more public consultants, hospital beds and other healthcare staff are needed, as well as patients being better stratified and given access to services in the community.
However, it is the lack of attention that this issue receives in both media and political circles that is even more surprising. Where are the declarations of a national emergency, á la Mary Harney with the trolley crisis in 2004?
Where are the protests on the streets á la water and bin charges and abortion legislation? Have we become immune to such shocking figures? Do we not have any standards or expectations from our health services?
Some opposition politicians, particularly former Minister for Health Micheál Martin, have been vocal on the issue in recent weeks. Speaking in the Dáil, the Fianna Fáil leader described the situation as “appalling”, pointing out that it had “become dramatically worse”.
However, few headlines came from this — bar the obligatory monthly ones where the latest increase in the figures were reported. It also appears that even the medical unions and representative bodies have given up trying to garner attention for the issue. Meanwhile the Console scandal, which while despicable affects a minority, has garnered endless acres of media coverage.
Our hospital waiting lists are an ongoing and worsening problem. But have we completely given up hope that we can solve them and bring them back down to manageable levels? Accepting the status quo — and the weak promises that the NTPF on a limited budget can adequately deal with the issue — is simply not acceptable. We need to say ‘no, this is not good enough’ and make enough noise until the political will finally emerges to really tackle it.