Updated: 19/01/17 : 07:28:27
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Over half of hospital waiting lists are in Northwest and West

More than 3,000 patients who have been waiting over 18 months for day-case treatment are to be given appointments from next month under a new initiative to clear waiting lists.

The Irish Times reports that the patients, who include people waiting for cataract and other minor surgeries, dental extractions and treatment of skin lesions, will receive their treatment in private hospitals.

Appointments will begin in April and it is hoped to clear the inpatient and daycase waiting list of anyone waiting longer than 18 months by June.

At the end of last year, 1,700 patients were on the list for this length of time.

Over half of those due to receive appointment are on waiting lists in the Saolta University Hospital Group, covering the west and northwest.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which is leading the initiative, is due to unveil its plans at a meeting of healthcare professionals attended by Minister for Health Simon Harris on Thursday.

The fund is issuing tender documents this week to all private hospitals that have expressed an interest in carrying out the work.

Mr Harris has allocated the fund €15 million for waiting list initiatives, of which €5 million is being used now to clear those waiting longest.

It is expected the remaining money will be used to cut the maximum wait to 15 months by the autumn.

A further €50 million will be made available next year, when it is planned to tackle outpatient waiting lists.

The decision to outsource the work to the private sector was taken because this was the most sustainable way to reduce waiting lists, according to NTPF chief executive Jim O’Sullivan.

“It is important the focus is on what is the most efficient and clinically effective way of having patients seen quickly. At present, this is offered in the private sector.”

“If public hospitals came up with solutions that are sustainable we would not be ideologically opposed to that option,” he said.

The decision to concentrate for now on inpatient waiting lists was motivated by the need to create capacity in the public system, he said.

Mr O’Sullivan said there were too many referrals to public hospitals and there was a need to create new pathways to treatments.

More minor surgeries could be performed by GPs, and some orthopaedic patients could be seen by physiotherapists rather than surgeons, he suggested.

This is the first time since 2011 that the NTPF has been given the job of arranging treatment for patients.

Previous once-off initiatives for clearing waiting lists produced only a short-term effect that wore off once funding was removed.

There were also criticisms that public patients referred to private hospitals ended up being sent back to the public system, but were placed at the end of the waiting list.

Mr O’Sullivan said the NTPF would ensure this didn’t happen this time around.

In addition, consultants would not be funded to privately treat patients who are on their public lists except in exceptional circumstances where no alternative existed, such as scoliosis treatment and ophthalmology.

“It’s not something I’m comfortable with and we will only do it if it’s totally unavoidable.”

UPDATE: 11.55 am

A €20m bid to reduce hospital waiting lists is being launched by the Health Minister this morning.

The National Treatment Purchase Fund aims to have no people on the list waiting more than 15 months for treatment by July.

They have been given a budget of €20m to provide private treatment for those on public waiting lists.

Minister Harris hopes it will take 3,000 of those waiting the longest off the lists.