Consultants have warned that the Government’s Waiting List Action Plan has 'fallen at the first hurdle' after having been launched just two weeks ago.
The warning from the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) comes as National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) figures show that there have been increases rather than reductions in the number of people waiting for care.
At present, there are 896,600 people on some form of public hospital waiting list, including 99,000 children.
In the first two months of 2022, some 12,800 people were added to three main waiting lists, missing the Government's reduction target by 34,800 according to the IHCA.
This comes despite the State's €350 million plan which aims to cut waiting lists by 18 per cent by the end of the year.
The IHCA has renewed its call for the Government to address public hospital capacity deficits and consultant vacancies.
Commenting on the issue, IHCA president Professor Alan Irvine, said: “The NTPF figures released today confirm our fears that these waiting lists may take a decade or more to get under control without simultaneously resolving the consultant recruitment and retention crisis in our public hospitals and filling the one in five consultant posts vacant or filled on a temporary basis.
“Unfortunately, not one of the 45 actions listed in the Government’s Waiting List Plan will address the fundamental issue of the overwhelming shortage of Consultants, acute hospital beds, theatre and other frontline resources.”
'Worst in Europe'
According to Professor Irvine, official health policy provides for patient wait times of up to a year for a procedure and 18 months for initial outpatient assessment.
“These waiting times for essential medical and surgical care are the worst in Europe and are a far cry from the maximum waiting time guarantees in Sláintecare, which pledged to ensure no-one would wait more than 12 weeks for an inpatient procedure, 10 weeks for an outpatient appointment and 10 days for a diagnostic test,” Professor Irvine said.
“Hospital Consultants are concerned that the Waiting List Plan and the HSE National Service Plan 2022 are built on fundamentally flawed foundations.
“Neither of the plans commit to a specific target for the number of additional hospital consultants to be appointed and in-post during 2022 or beyond.
“Nor has there been any engagement or follow through on commitments made towards solving the core issues around consultant contracts and ending the pay discrimination introduced in 2012 against consultants contracted after that date.
“There is also a real risk that the pent-up demand for care that has built up during the pandemic and which will present during 2022 has been significantly underestimated.
“Solutions cannot emerge from a vacuum or by skirting around the clear and sustainable actions,” Professor Irvine added.
This approach over the last decade has severely undermined trust and is driving our highly trained medical and surgical specialists abroad, leaving our patients without access to the care they need and deserve.”