Over 8,500 waiting for hospital appointments

By Mary Dennehy

AT THE end of July, more than 8,500 people were waiting 18 months or longer for an outpatient appointment at Tallaght University Hospital.

The Echo obtained the most recent figures from the local health facility after Dublin South West TD John Lahart highlighted a 676 per cent increase between May 2016 and May 2019 in the number of patients waiting more than 18 months for an appointment at Tallaght.

Tallaght Hospital 03 1

Tallaght University Hospital (TUH)

According to Deputy Lahart, the number of patients waiting more than 18 months for an outpatient appointment at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH) increased by 7,676 people (676.9 per cent) between May 2016 and May 2019.

The outpatient waiting list, for 18 months or longer in May 2016 was 1,134. By the end of May 2019 the waiting list stood at 8,810. 

According to the hospital, as of the end of July, figures had slightly decreased, with a total of 8,515 patients awaiting outpatient appointments for 18 months or longer.

The clinics with the longest waiting times are orthopaedics, ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat), gynaecology, dermatology and neurology.

The hospital has introduced a number of initiatives to tackle outpatient waiting list times, which includes the opening of the SIMMS building, a purpose-built outpatient facility that lies across the road from the hospital entrance in Tallaght Cross.

SIMMS Building 

Last October, in collaboration with the HSE, the hospital moved its endocrinology, diabetes and podiatry outpatient clinics to the SIMMS building – and earlier this month neurology outpatient services moved in.

According to the hospital, this brings more than 12,000 patient appointment attendances outside of the hospital and into the  community.

“The transition of these clinics have created more space in the hospital to see and treat an ever increasing number of patients referred to the hospital,” a TUH spokesperson said.

“The relocation of these services is the first in a series of planned moves to bring core healthcare services into the community.

“TUH needs to develop capacity and new ways of working to meet this exponential demand.”

Off-site day-case surgery centre

The hospital has also started on the development of an innovative off-site day-case surgery centre at Tallaght Cross West.

The hospital confirmed to The Echo that the design process of the facility is completed, with construction and fit-out scheduled towards mid-2020.

“This development will result in additional beds and theatre capacity being available on the main campus”, the TUH spokesperson said.

“Given the significant increased population projections for Tallaght, the hospital is actively working on new ways of delivering its wide ranging outpatient and inpatient services.”

In July, Deputy Lahart raised the outpatient waiting times at TUH with the Minister  Simon Harris through a parliamentary question.

"Waiting times are often unacceptably long..."

In his reply, the Minister said: “I am conscious that waiting times are often unacceptably long and of the burden that this places on patients and their families.”

The Minister noted the joint Department of Health/HSE/National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) Scheduled Care Access Plan 2019, which was published in March.

This plan sets out measures to improve care for patients waiting for scheduled care in 2019 by reducing waiting times for inpatient/day case treatment and outpatient appointments.

Minister Harris added that the NTPF advised that, to date in 2019, Tallaght Hospital has received approval for NTPF funding for a number of outpatient initiatives.

Speaking with The Echo, Deputy Lahart (Fianna Fáil) said that the Government strategy is so dependent on the use of the NTPF to try and address hospital waiting lists.

“Something has gone radically wrong, the Government plans aren’t working,” Deputy Lahart said.

“I have scores of constituents waiting inexcusable times for treatments and procedures.

“The Minister keeps committing to improving waiting times, and clearly insofar as Tallaght is concerned, it’s not working.

“The lives of people are at stake.”

Some of the new initiatives at TUH to reduce waiting lists for both outpatient and inpatient services…

1. TUH has successfully recruited an additional consultant for its Orthopaedic service and one for its Dermatology service, due to start in September and October respectively.

2. Three in-house initiatives to reduce waiting lists are currently running in the ENT service.

3. A ‘validation exercise is underway with the NTPF across a number of services to remove patients who no longer require an appointment.

4. The introduction of a new headache clinic, which improves the speed of access to specialist care and reduces waiting time for assessment.

5. The clinic runs on a weekly basis and since its launch in September 2018, more than 276 patients have been reviewed, 48 per cent of patients were discharged after their first appointment.

6. Development of a new Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders pathway, which is expected to help reduce outpatient return waiting lists and prevent unnecessary investigations. TUH has said that feedback from patients to date has been “positive”.

7. TUH is the first public hospital in Ireland to introduce UroLift. This is a day case treatment for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, a condition which affects one in four men over the age of 40.

8. UroLift requires only a few hours in hospital and there is no cutting or removal of tissue. It replaces a traditional operation that could involve a two- to three-night stay in hospital.

9. The opening of SIMMS in October 2018, a purpose built, outpatient facility in Tallaght Cross.

10. The development of an off-site day case surgery centre at Tallaght Cross West.

The Hospital has also asked members of the public to let them know if they cannot make an appointment so that the time can be offered to another patient awaiting an appointment.

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