Dáil Éireann - Volume 557 - 21 November, 2002
Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.
Mr. O'Shea Mr. O'Shea
32. Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children in regard to the commitment given on 6 May 2002, the progress which has been made towards eliminating hospital waiting lists within two years; his views on whether this target will be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22912/02]
Mr. Wall Mr. Wall
54. Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children if he expects to meet the targets set out in the national health strategy for reducing hospital waiting lists for 2002, having regard to the recent waiting lists which showed a decrease of only 1% from March to June of 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22897/02]
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin)
Minister for Health and Children (Mr. Martin): I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 54 together.
The health strategy sets out a comprehensive set of actions to reduce waiting times for public patients. The target is that by the end of 2004 all public patients requiring admission to hospital will be scheduled to commence treatment within a maximum of three months of referral from an out-patient department. Intermediate targets have been set to achieve this aim to ensure that the focus is being turned towards the long waiters.
Full year information in respect of 2002 will not be available until early 2003. Considerable progress has been made in reducing waiting times for public patients. The total number of adults waiting for more than 12 months for treatment in the target surgical specialties has fallen by 22% in the period June 2001 to June 2002. For example, there has been a reduction of 28% in the number of adults waiting more than 12 months for ophthalmology procedures and a fall of 20% in the number of adults waiting for more than 12 months for orthopaedic procedures in the same period. This period has also shown reductions in the number of children waiting more than six months for ENT procedures, which has fallen by 28%, and those waiting more than six months for ophthalmology procedures has been reduced by 24%. Further significant reductions in waiting times are expected.
A sum of €43.8 million has been made available to health agencies in 2002 under the waiting list initiative to support waiting list procedures. While the waiting list initiative will continue to fund additional elective activity, a new dedicated national treatment purchase fund is being used  to target those waiting longest for treatment by purchasing treatments for public patients in private hospitals. In the current year, the national treatment purchase fund expects to treat up to 2,000 patients and from January 2003, it expects to refer 600 patients per month for treatment. To date, approximately 8,300 patients have been identified by hospitals and health boards as eligible for treatment under this initiative and approximately 1,000 patients have been treated.
The single most important limiting factor for admission to hospital is bed availability. In this context a comprehensive review of bed capacity needs has been conducted in both the acute and non-acute sectors. The review, which has informed the health strategy, has focused primarily on the need to increase bed capacity and to have a strategic framework in place in terms of the number of additional beds required in the short, medium and long term. This year I have made provision for the commissioning of an additional 709 acute beds in public hospitals at a cost of €65 million. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that 272 of these beds have been commissioned under this initiative to date. The latest advice to my Department from the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, and the health boards indicates that in excess of 600 beds will be in place by year end and that the remainder will be commissioned early in the new year.
Dáil Éireann 557 Written Answers. Hospital Waiting Lists.