AN enormous 23,000 outpatient appointments were missed by patients in the Mid-West last year, the HSE has revealed amid concern over lengthy waiting times for those referred to consultants clinics by their GP.
That means that public patients failed to show up at one in eight outpatient appointments at acute hospitals in Limerick, Croom, Ennis and Nenagh in 2011.
The HSE said it would next month start texting reminders to patients’ phones - and asking them to confirm they will attend - in an effort to cut waiting lists.
It follows a “blitz” commenced last month to reduce the number of people waiting to see a dermatologist, with a similar effort to get underway in neurology “in the coming weeks”, a spokesman said.
“The target is that by March 31, 2013 no patient will be waiting for over 12 months for an outpatient appointment,” the HSE has pledged.
Limerick’s Cllr Michael Hourigan, who is vice-chair of the HSE West Forum, this week criticised as “totally unacceptable” revelations that almost one in 10 of the population was on “the waiting list to get on a waiting list” having been referred to a specialist by their GP.
Figures compiled for the Department of Health show that the problem getting an outpatients appointment is particularly acute in the Limerick region. Of the 17,000 patients nationally who have been waiting for more than four years, more than half have been referred to either the Mid-Western Regional Hospital (4,826) or Croom Orthopaedic (4,813).
The HSE said the main pressure points in the Mid-West were in orthopaedics, neurology, urology and dermatology.
“The numbers are undoubtedly high but the same can be said of every major hospital in the country. The real figures will not be known until we have completed a validation exercise to examine the entire outpatients waiting list for the Mid-West. Experience from other parts of the country indicates that such an exercise tends to reduce the waiting list substantially through people accessing care elsewhere, emigrating and so on.
“The number of patients waiting for outpatient department (OPD) appointments should be viewed in the context of the overall number of patients who attend the hospitals each week.
On average the Mid-Western Regional Hospital (Dooradoyle) treats 2,232 outpatients each week.
In 2011 there were 116,116 outpatient attendances and currently there are 19,536 patients on waiting lists for an outpatient appointment at MWRH,” the HSE stated.
It was also “important to note” that all referrals were “clinically triaged and prioritised as urgent, soon and elective and given an appointment depending on the grading”.
The HSE now wants to work with patients to reduce the number of what are termed DNAs (“do not attends”), of which there were 23,303 across the Mid-West in 2011, a year in which the HSE had planned for just shy of 190,000 outpatient attendances in the region.
St John’s Hospital appears to have a particular problem, with preliminary HSE data showing a staggering 59 per cent of new attendances in one month last year were in the DNA category.
The problem “reduces our capacity to see new patients and adds considerably to our waiting lists”, the HSE said.
The failure to fill promised consultant posts has been identified as one of the reasons for long waiting times for public patients but the HSE has pointed to progress on that front in the Mid-West.
“There has been a substantial increase in the number of consultant staff in the region in recent years. Dermatology has gone from one to three; neurology from one to two; rheumatology from one to three; orthopaedics from four to six; microbiology from one to two; urology from one to two; haematology from one to two; gastroentology from two to three; emergency from two to four; cardiology from three to five with a cath lab operating from 8am to 8pm,” a spokesman said.
“Three acute medicine physicians have been appointed to cover Dooradoyle, St John’s, Ennis and Nenagh in addition to a lead physician to develop an acute medicine assessment unit in Dooradoyle.”