New hospital waiting list figures published today by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) show that 515,280 people on the Active Waiting Lists (IPDC, GI Scope and Outpatients) are waiting longer than the Sláintecare maximum wait times. This represents an 18% (111,971) decrease compared to the waiting list peaks experienced during the pandemic in 2020/21, and a 9% (50,841) decrease compared to February 2022. This also represents a 12% (72,150) decrease compared to the start of the multi-annual approach to addressing waiting lists in September 2021.
The 2017 Houses of the Oireachtas Sláintecare report recommended maximum wait times of no more than 12 weeks for an inpatient / day case (IPDC) procedure or GI Scope and 10 weeks for a new outpatient (OPD) appointment. As at end of February 2023, 53,847 people are currently exceeding the 12-week IPDC target, 11,315 exceeding the 12-week GI Scope and 450,118 people are exceeding the 10-week OPD target. Individual hospitals are also delivering improvements in waiting times.
Waiting list figures published each month only reflect the net position at a point in time. They do not represent the scale and breadth of activity that is undertaken by our health services during these periods. For instance, some 1.56 million patients were removed from hospital waiting lists in 2022 following interventions by both the HSE and NTPF through the 2022 Waiting List Action Plan. 1.53 million people were added to waiting lists during this same period, so these removals in 2022 resulted in a net reduction of 30,000 people (4.1%), the first annual reduction in waiting lists achieved since 2015. Without the intervention of the 2022 Waiting List Action Plan, it is estimated that overall waiting lists would have increased by 42%.
Activity related to hospital waiting lists is only one part of the care given by our health systems every day. A new monthly report published by the HSE today gives an insight into these enormous activity levels with millions of patients being seen and treated annually within our hospital system alone. For the most recently available 12 months of data there were 3.4 million outpatients and 1.7 million in-patient / day case attendances. In addition to this planned (‘scheduled’) care our hospital system also treated 1.64 million patients during this same period in emergency (‘unscheduled’) care, which represents a 9% increase on 2019 (pre-pandemic) levels and reflects the ongoing pressure on hospitals from flu surges and increased Emergency Department attendances.
Such pressures also had a negative knock-on impact on scheduled care in many of our hospitals during January and February, which has resulted in some waiting lists temporarily increasing. However, there are many examples of individual hospitals delivering significant improvements in waiting times despite such challenges. For example, over the past year, both Nenagh Hospital and University Hospital Kerry have reduced the number of patients waiting over 12 months for an IPDC procedure by 100% and University Hospital Limerick has reduced numbers waiting over 18 months for an OPD appointment by 73%.
The publication of February waiting list and activity figures by the NTPF and HSE follows the launch of the 2023 Waiting List Action Plan on 7 March by the Minister for Health. The 2023 Plan continues the multi-annual approach to addressing waiting lists that commenced in Q1 2021 and details 30 actions focused on delivering capacity, reforming scheduled care, and enabling scheduled care reform. The 2023 Plan will fund the HSE and NTPF to reduce waiting lists by a further 10% this year as well as continuing to significantly reduce waiting times towards the Sláintecare recommended targets.
This action plan is the product of extensive consultation between the Department of Health, the HSE and the NTPF. It allocates €363 million, as the next stage of the multi-annual approach to sustainably reduce and reform hospital waiting lists and waiting times. Another €80 million was allocated in Budget 2023 for various community/primary care waiting list initiatives.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) collects, collates and publishes hospital waiting list data for IPDC, OPD and GI Scopes waiting lists. Data is published monthly, and is available on the NTPF website. From this month onwards it includes new reporting on the number of patients on waiting lists exceeding Sláintecare recommended wait times.
The HSE has begun publishing hospital activity data on the volumes on patients it sees and treats. This data provides context for the waiting lists data.
The agreed cross-party objective, as recommended in the 2017 Houses of the Oireachtas ‘Committee on the Future of Healthcare Sláintecare’ report, is to have nobody waiting longer than 10 weeks for an outpatient (OPD) appointment and 12 weeks for an inpatient / day case (IPDC) procedure or gastrointestinal endoscopy (GI Scope).
There are further examples of individual hospitals delivering significant improvements in waiting times: