Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane TD has said that the Minister for Health’s Waiting List Action Plan 2023 has failed to make a sustainable difference to waiting lists, noting that modest reductions in 2023 fell far short of target. The number of patients waiting for an appointment fell by just 3%, compared to a target of 10%, and the total number of patients on all hospital lists remained stagnant.
The TD for Waterford pointed out that the target reduction of 10% was missed by two-thirds, with 470,000 people still waiting longer than the Sláintecare targets. He said that the twin crises of overcrowded emergency departments and long waiting lists cannot be sustainably tackled without significant investment in hospital infrastructure, such as beds, elective centres, and diagnostic capacity, as well as in primary care and community services, such as general practice.
Teachta Cullinane said:
“The Minster for Health’s waiting list action plan for 2023 fell far short of target. The number of patients actively waiting for an appointment fell by only a third of the targeted 10% reduction, which was a modest target. The overall number of patients on lists remained stagnant, and there are still 470,000 people waiting longer than the Sláintecare recommended maximum wait times.
“The health service does not have the necessary infrastructure to tackle the twin crises of overcrowded emergency departments and long waiting lists. There was always going to be a reduction in waiting lists as we exited the pandemic and operational capacity returned to normal levels, but the infrastructure investments to maximise this effect were not made. Hospitals are short 1000 beds and lacking protected capacity for planned procedures, which leads to massive cancellations.
“The Government has not provided new capital funding in 2024 for the health service to build the 1500 beds that are needed in the next three years and has been dragging its feet on elective centres. They are still to get to the starting gate for the elective centre for Dublin, with no site yet selected as we head into the fifth year of their term. 200 new beds that were announced in 2020 have yet to be delivered, demonstrating the total lack of pace in infrastructure development that is holding the health service back.
“The HSE’s efforts were challenged further by the recruitment embargo at the end of 2023, and the very low recruitment limit which has been set for 2024. This limit will see the HSE recruit net additional workers at just one-third of the rate it was able to over the last three years.
“We cannot forget the significant expansion needed in primary and community care to take pressure off hospitals. GPs are stretched, out of hours services are severely challenged, and the HSE is not funded to deliver enough home and community care services to keep older people and people with chronic diseases from needing to go to hospital.
“There is no evidence of strategic workforce planning to enhance the pipeline of graduates, and the housing crisis is also driving young graduates to search for better opportunity abroad. It is reducing the attractiveness of the HSE as a place to work and Ireland as a place to live.
“We know the ingredients needed to make 2024 a successful year where the health service can turn a corner. Sinn Féin laid this out in our Alternative Budget for 2024 when we proposed a €698 million investment in services and an additional €207 million investment in capital projects. But without this investment and ambitious infrastructure, it will be a lost year of squandered opportunity.”