A large backlog of mostly elderly patients awaiting cataract surgery at Waterford Regional Hospital has been significantly reduced by outsourcing operations to private healthcare providers.
Last year the Dáil Public Accounts Committee was asked to look at how certain public hospital waiting lists were being tackled and whether value for money was being achieved.
In response to a January 2014 parliamentary question submitted by Waterford TD John Deasy the HSE outlined the steps it was taking to reduce the cataract surgery list.
The HSE subsequently confirmed there had been 1,135 patients on the WRH Ophthalmology Scheduled Care register as of July 31, 2013. Of these, 382 had breached the Department of Health 12-month waiting list target.
PAC member Deputy Deasy says: “An analysis of the hospital’s capacity to manage the accumulation of cases identified that only 320 would be treated by the end of 2013.
“The inability to deal internally with the backlog was attributed to three vacant permanent posts at Ardkeen — the hospital having been down to one full-time ophthalmic surgeon and two part-time consultants.”
The Hospital’s general manager sought and received approval from the HSE to outsource procedures to five hospitals to complete the volume of surgeries by the end of 2013.
Of the 815 patients offered a service in private hospitals, 666 accepted. Some patients wished to remain on the WRH waiting list and others had already received treatment elsewhere.
A breakdown shows the operations were carried out in Whitfield Clinic, Waterford (171), Auteven Kilkenny (196), Eye and Ear Hospital Dublin (122), and two Cork hospitals, The Bon Secours (101) and Mater Private (76).
Initial discussions with the private providers indicated a cost of around €2,300 per cataract procedure. Agreement was reached on a price of €1,900, paid to the hospitals, which the HSE regarded as “reasonable”.
In a follow-up report to the PAC last week, the head of the HSE’s South/South West Hospital Group said that since December University Hospital Waterford has had a full complement of four consultant ophthalmologists. There's also a plan in place to cater for patients in-house, “ensuring reduced waiting times”.
John Deasy added: “While the numbers who have received procedures are significant, I’m aware of others who couldn’t wait and went abroad to get treatment.
“I also know there are people who don’t fall into these categories so I’ll be asking the HSE what the current waiting list is like and how quickly it will be dealt with.
“There has been progress but there are still people waiting too long. Elderly people shouldn't have to endure diminished sight and blindness considering how treatable the condition is in most circumstances,” Deasy said.
“Ideally all these operations should be taking place in University Hospital Waterford but the priority has to be to ensure people get the treatment they need. And if that means outsourcing procedures to private providers then that’s fine.”