Dáil Éireann - Volume 475 - 18 February, 1997

Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

133. Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Health his views regarding the length of waiting lists for both in-patient and out-patient services in Dublin hospitals and the long delays experienced by out-patients in particular when they finally present themselves at the appointed time; [209] the measures, if any, he is taking to improve the situation in hospitals generally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4273/97]

Minister for Health (Mr. Noonan, Limerick East): Improving equity of access to hospital services is a central element of the Government's approach to the development of the health services. Together with developments aimed at improving the range and level of medical and surgical services provided in each health board region, special measures to reduce waiting lists for treatment form an important element of the strategy to improve equity of access to hospital services. Since the waiting list initiative commenced in 1993, it has focused upon those areas of hospital treatment where long waiting times were causing the greatest hardship.

Considerable progress has been made in reducing waiting lists for surgery in the target specialties over the last three years. When the waiting list initiative commenced in June 1993, there were 40,130 people on waiting lists for hospital treatment. Waiting list figures for the end of 1996 show that the total number of persons waiting for treatment at the end of 1996 has fallen to 25,959. This represents significant progress in the reduction of waiting lists and demonstrates the Government's concern to ensure that the necessary resources are provided to improve waiting times for treatment.

I am happy to assure the House that special measures to reduce waiting lists will continue in 1997. The provision of special funding to reduce waiting times continues to be a priority for the Government and £4 million has been provided in the budget to continue progress in this area. This provision will bring to £8 million the total funding available in 1997 to address the problem of long waiting times for elective surgery. The funding provided in 1997 brings to £58 million the total resources committed to the reduction of hospital waiting lists since the current initiative commenced in 1993. My Department will be holding detailed discussions with health agencies in the coming weeks on the allocation of this funding.

In relation to delays at out-patient departments, the Deputy will wish to know that the charter of rights for hospital patients stipulates that patients, on referral by their GP to hospital for an out-patient appointment, have the right to be given an individual appointment time. While the charter has no statutory basis, I am satisfied that its provisions are being implemented by most hospitals.

The question of individual appointment times can be problematic for a number of reasons and delays can occur in out-patient departments where patients either fail to attend punctually or fail to notify hospitals when they are unable to attend. My Department is reviewing the effectiveness of the charter and this issue will be considered in the context of this review.