Cutbacks, crowds and cramped conditions: the waiting game

It’s the countdown to Christmas and many families are preparing for the events by putting up decorations, going to the annual panto, and of course getting ready for the inevitable visit from Santa and the exchange of gifts.

For many people, however, this is not the case. Many are in anxious anticipation this year as to whether they can make it to the top of lengthy hospital waiting lists. Many children will be asking Santa for the same thing.

This year there has been a massive increase in hospital waiting times and lists. In September it was established that the extent of waiting lists had increased ten times in the space of a year. While 475 people were on three month waiting lists in September 2012, these figures have rocketed to 4,514 in 2013.

The lists are compiled from people anticipating serious procedures and surgeries to people waiting on basic procedures such as endoscopies. One of the major issues with the wait on such standard procedures is that ailments may go undetected until symptoms are too far gone to be dealt with. An eerie example of this occurred in Wales where 15 patients have died waiting for surgery. Reports released in the summer declared that the largest hospital in Wales was a danger due to waiting lists.

Whether we will be following in these footsteps however is unknown as more cutbacks have been issued by the HSE. The worst affected hospital is St James’ Hospital, one of the busiest and largest hospitals in Ireland. The public hospital will be losing out on €9 million. Other hospitals affected by cutbacks include St Vincent’s Hospital, Our Lady’s Hospital and the Rotunda.

Children’s hospitals have also suffered the wrath of these increases. Last year the waiting list at Temple Street Hospital doubled. While many children can be in dire need of surgery their families cannot afford to fork out extravagant fees for the surgeries. Charities like the Heartbeat Trust have been founded to aid families like these. Now however, both Temple Street and Crumlin Children’s Hospital have suffered cutbacks of 2 per cent.

Recent revelations have also stipulated that last year’s HSE budget was a disaster. It was confirmed last week that the HSE will have overspent by €351m by the end of this year. Health Minister James Reilly has insisted that this overspending will not impact upon further cut backs. “Obviously, I have to go the Dáil and ensure that that happens before I count my chickens.”

Despite a hopeful decrease in waiting lists during 2012, figures have jumped ten times in the past few months and cutback revelations couldn’t have arrived at a more inappropriate time. Especially last week, when complaints were published about a temporary chemotherapy ward in the Mater.

We have all heard horror stories about hospital trolleys in damp, bleach infused corridors and 20 hour waits in A&E, while cancer patients have complained of cramped and uncomfortable conditions with four people allocated to rooms designed for one patient. The Mater also has the highest proportion of long term waiting patients in Ireland. It had 5,011 patients on waiting lists for hospital treatment over the summer. Over 500 of these patients were waiting longer than nine months.

However there are some positives, despite these cutbacks. There has been a significant increase to certain health services across the country. Some hospitals such as Mayo General, Beaumont and the Cavan-Monaghan group have witnessed moderate increases to their budget, while the Louth-Meath Hospital Group has seen a significant increase of 14 per cent.

HSE Director General Tony O’Brien, however, is adamant that the new budget gives hospitals the opportunity to break even. When speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News, he mentioned how no hospital is worse off this year than last year where cuts as high as 12 per cent were issued.

Nonetheless with the startling increase on waiting lists in the past year, this may not be the best time for health service cutbacks. No one did well in the latest budget. However there comes a time to prioritise, and hospital attendees can never recover if they are sitting around on waiting lists.

Katie Coyle

Image credit: Flickr via Creative Commons

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