The number of people facing long term waits for an outpatient appointment at the region’s main hospital has increased more than sixfold in a three-year period.
New figures have revealed that there’s been a rise of over 4,000 in those numbers at University Hospital Limerick in the past year alone.
The numbers awaiting inpatient appointments, meanwhile, are decreasing.
Figures released by the National Treatment Purchase Fund show that at the end of last month, close to 40,000 patients were awaiting appointments at University Hospital Limerick.
Of that number, some 36,697 were on outpatient waiting lists, a rise of over 6,000 in a year.
It’s long term waits, though, that continue to prove the biggest issue at UHL, with 8,676 patients on the lists for 18 months or more at the end of July.
That figure is six and a half times the numbers waiting at least a year and a half just three years ago and a rise of over 4,000 – or 88% – in the past 12 months.
Numbers at Ennis General are also on the rise, with the total figure of 1,706 up by around 300 since July of last year.
However, it’s better news in terms of inpatient appointments – those figures have dropped by 40% at UHL since last year, with a total of 1,939 waiting to be seen at the end of July.
The UL Hospitals Group says the rise is in part due to increased demand on services, adding that they’re in line with national expectations.
STATEMENT FROM UL HOSPITALS GROUP
The latest NTPF figures for UL Hospitals Group and nationally are in line with expectation.
They reflect national policy as announced by the Minister for Health where a focus would initially be placed on those waiting longest for inpatient and day case procedures. At University Hospital Limerick, there was an overall decrease in patients waiting of approximately 29% year-on-year as of the end of July 2019 and of those waiting longer than 12 months for an inpatient/day case procedure, the decrease was approximately 53%.
In relation to outpatients, there was an overall increase of 22% (from 30,188 to 36,697) in persons waiting for an appointment over the 12-month period. These numbers should be seen in the context of almost 150,000 outpatient attendances in UHL and almost 217,000 attendances across the Group in 2018.
Almost 62% of patient currently waiting for an appointment in OPD have been waiting for less than a year.
This is not to minimise in any way the anxiety experienced by patients waiting for appointments. All patients who are waiting for appointments are prioritised according to clinical need with urgent cases being the highest priority. Beyond this, UL Hospitals Group will continue to focus on seeing and treating those who have been waiting the longest.
Among the reasons for the overall increase for the Group is the significant growth in demand; an increase in the number of urgent referrals in some specialties, such as ENT and Orthopaedics, and a shortage of consultants in other specialties. New consultant surgeons in ENT and orthopaedics have recently taken up post. In addition, the opening of the new cataract only theatre in Nenagh Hospital is having a knock-on effect in helping reduce OPD wait times in ophthalmology.