13. Deputy Louise O’Reilly asked the Minister for Health the reason the HSE has discontinued waiting list targets set in 2017; the number of persons who will be affected; the number of complex cases still waiting for surgery; if new more ambitious targets will be now set; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 6365/18 asked on 08 Feb 2018)
Deputy Louise O’Reilly: This question specifically relates to scoliosis but arises from contact that we have had from campaign groups to advise us that they are being told that the waiting lists have been discontinued. The targets which were set were not met so we do need to talk about that and it appears that the waiting lists have now been suspended, which is very worrying for people who had loved ones on those lists.
Deputy Simon Harris: I thank the Deputy for the clarity about scoliosis. I presumed that was what the question was about and I thank her for raising this issue. The inpatient and day case waiting list action plan 2017, developed by the HSE in conjunction with the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, focused on reducing the number of patients who will be waiting the longest by the end of October 2017. As a result of this plan, 27,981 patients came off the waiting list. We are now developing a plan for 2018. Considering I know we are tight on time and that the question specifically refers to scoliosis, I will say that in May 2017 the HSE published the scoliosis waiting list update and service development plan which aimed to deliver on its commitment that no patient who required surgery for scoliosis would be waiting more than four months by the end of the year. As a result of the action plan, 321 surgeries took place in 2017, compared to 220 in 2016, which represents a 46% increase in activity, a very large increase. The HSE has confirmed that it will maintain the four month target in 2018 and beyond, which is international best practice, for all patients who are clinically deemed to require surgery now. I make the point, as I think the Deputy is familiar with, that there is a co-design group of clinicians who carry out the surgeries and advocacy groups that have been doing much good work with an independent chair. They are due to publish their proposals about how the scoliosis model of care should work in the next couple of weeks. Once a person is clinically deemed appropriate for surgery, four months is still the target.
Deputy Louise O’Reilly: The Minister knows that the operating theatre only opens three days a week. Five days a week would be preferable or seven days a week if there was any sense of urgency about this issue. I have specifically raised the 68 medically complex cases with the Minister on a number of occasions, not for sport but because it is being raised with me. It would appear that the reality of people on waiting lists is not matched by reports that we get in this House. The 68 children who have complex medical needs should be treated here. They may not necessarily be suitable for travel abroad but, to do that, that theatre would have to be open five days a week, if not seven days a week. The three days a week opening is not good enough.
Deputy Simon Harris: The Children’s Hospital Group will shortly publish, with the scoliosis co-design team, how the extra resources provided to it for 2018 will be expended. It will be used with a view to opening the theatre five days a week. They need to recruit for that. I do not want to mislead the Dáil and need to check whether that recruitment has started but I know the intention is to open that theatre five days a week. I will provide the Deputy with a detailed note on the plan for 2018.