An 18% decrease compared to the waiting list peaks experienced during the pandemic in 2020/21

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Hospital waiting list figures by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) on March 10, 2023 showed that there were 515,280 people on the Active Waiting Lists (IPDC, GI Scope and Outpatients)  waiting longer than the Sláintecare maximum wait times.

This represented 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 represented 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, there were 53,847 people  exceeding the 12-week IPDC target, 11,315 exceeding the 12-week GI Scope and 450,118 people were exceeding the 10-week OPD target. Individual hospitals were also delivering improvements in waiting times. 

The Department of Health said waiting list figures published each month only reflected the net position at a point in time. They did not represent the scale and breadth of activity that was undertaken by the 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. A total of 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, the Department estimated that overall waiting lists would have increased by 42%.  

The Department said that activity related to hospital waiting lists was only one part of the care given by our health systems every day. “A new monthly report published by the HSE in March gave 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 care, our hospital system also treated 1.64 million patients during this same period in emergency 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. “

  • The 2023 Waiting List Action Plan is available here.  It 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. https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/who/acute-hospitals-division/hospital-activity/hospital-activity.html 
  • 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). 

The Department said there were further examples of individual hospitals delivering significant improvements in waiting times:

  • University Hospital Limerick has reduced numbers waiting over 18 months for an OPD appointment by 72.8% in the past year.
  • Mayo University Hospital has reduced the numbers waiting over 12 months for a colonoscopy by 94.6% in the past year.
  • CHI at Tallaght has reduced numbers waiting over 18 months for an OPD appointment by 47% in the past year.
  • Wexford General Hospital has reduced the numbers waiting over 12 months for a colonoscopy by 97% in the past year.
  • Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda has reduced the numbers waiting over 18 months for an OPD appointment by 54.9% in the past year.
  • Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore has reduced numbers waiting over 12 months for an IPDC procedure by 51.7% in the past year.