public patients - including medical card holders - who send a text message confirming their attendance at outpatients clinics and then fail to turn up will be charged when they eventually do show, Minister for Health Dr James Reilly has said.
Speaking in Limerick, the minister outlined a range of measures to reduce waiting times for outpatients clinics. HSE figures show more than 360,000 people nationally are on the outpatients waiting list.
And of the more than 16,000 people who have been waiting over four years to see a consultant, more than half are referrals to either Limerick Regional or Croom Orthopaedic hospitals.
HSE figures released to the Limerick Leader show that 23,000 people missed outpatient appointments in the Mid-West last year, almost one in eight. And the minister has pledged to do something about those categorised as “do not attends”.
Texting reminders of appointments was one such measure, he explained.
“There’s the use of mobile phones to text people three days beforehand to text back yes or no if they are coming; and to text them again on the morning of the outpatients to make sure that they are reminded. And I have to say that if they don’t turn up having texted back yes, the next time they come they will be charged because it is not fair on their fellow community members.
“But equally, I want the system to show the patient respect and it’s utterly unacceptable to me - and I’ve told Mr (HSE CEO Tony) O’Brien this and it is going to be addressed - that you would bring 35 people together at 9am for a 9am appointment. That shows terrible disrespect to people. We need a proper system that respects the patient as well and brings maybe two or three every half an hour or whatever it is going to be. They can say the reason they do this is because of the high numbers of people who do not arrive. I say the very reason we have such high numbers of people not arriving is because they are treated like cattle. I’m not going to tolerate that,” the minister said.
He said the longest waiters on the outpatients lists would be treated first and pledged in respect of those patients: “I’m going to promise them that none of them will be waiting longer than a year by the end of next year”.
Great strides had already been made in Limerick, the minister said, in relation to inpatient waiting lists.
“A huge amount of great work has been done. A new hospital group was formed here with Limerick Regional, St John’s, Ennis and Nenagh. We have a new manager in Ann Doherty who is doing sterling work and we have gone from a position where we would have had several thousand people waiting longer than nine months to something like 85 people left on the list now for an inpatient procedure. I think that is huge progress given the difficult budgetary position we find ourselves in,” he said.
“We have gone about this in a methodical fashion. Emergency departments are where the sickest patients are. We have to solve that problem first and we have started doing that...the next thing is treating people waiting for an inpatient procedure and we have done that. We have gone from nobody (waiting) over a year to almost nobody over nine months. Now we have identified the outpatients list, which sounds pretty horrifying at 360,000 but when you put it into the context of 200,000 people treated at our outpatients every month is not insurmountable.”
“For reasons of fairness, you have got to treat the longest waiters first so there is a lot of things we are going to do in relation to this,” he said.