Health Minister reveals plans to cut hospital waiting lists

A range of important initiatives to treat more patients on hospital waiting lists has been revealed.
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These include naming Omagh Hospital as Northern Ireland’s second regional Day Procedure Centre.

Health Minister Robin Swann confirmed that, despite ongoing budgetary uncertainty, he has been able to allocate £46 million for additional waiting list activity for the first six months of 2022/23.

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This is in addition to the £90 million he allocated last year that delivered more than 216,000 patient contacts by the end of February.

Robin SwannRobin Swann
Robin Swann

This included 35,000 new outpatient appointments, 120,000 diagnostic appointments and 13,000 in-patient day case treatment.

The additional funding for the start of 2022/23 involves creating additional in-house health service capacity over and above normal day to day work, as well as paying independent sector providers to assess and treat patients who are on waiting lists.

Mr Swann has also announced additional recurrent investment of more than £16 million per year on boosting in-house health service capacity to treat patients.

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However, the Minister has warned that the funding allocations are “not without risk” in the absence of a budget. Funding pressures in health may be significant by the second half of 2022/23 and the financial situation will be constrained whatever the final budget settlement, he emphasised.

“Nevertheless, as long as I am Health Minister I will have a relentless drive on bringing down waiting times,” he said. “I will continue to put patients at the heart of my decision making and continue to do the best I can to deliver for them with the resources I have available.”

The Minister said there was “so much more to be done” but insisted he was confident these newly announced initiatives “will make a difference”.

He also underlined the scale of the “Herculean task” in tackling waiting times: “The realistic outlook for our overall waiting times position is a period of slowing growth before, ultimately, a sustained reversal as the decisions already taken on staffing and other investments in capacity begin to come to fruition,” he said.

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“Alongside the investment in buying additional capacity, we need to strengthen in house capacity on a major scale – to meet current and future needs.”

He said that buying treatments for patients from the independent sector helped reduce the capacity gap between demand for care and the health service’s current ability to meet it.

The longer-term solution, as set out in the Elective Care Strategy published by the Minister in 2021, is to significantly grow health service capacity.

“I am pleased to be able to announce the creation of Omagh Hospital as Northern Ireland’s second regional Day Procedure Centre” Mr Swann stated.

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Omagh Hospital Day Procedure Centre will see seven regional theatre lists per week across urology and general surgery – two specialities with some of the longest waits. This means an extra 1,750 patients across these specialities will be treated per year, when fully implemented. In addition, 10 regional endoscopy sessions at Omagh Hospital will see an extra 3,000 patients per year.

The regional endoscopy extension at Omagh hospital will further be supported with 20 extra sessions at Lagan Valley Hospital. In total, approximately 9,000 extra patients will be seen per year. These additional sessions will reduce waiting lists with the intention of, ultimately, eradicating them.

Lagan Valley Hospital Day Procedure Centre was set up in 2020 and is further ramping up activity to deliver over 900 theatre lists per year with over 5,000 patients treated across ENT, urology, hernias and gynaecology.

Musgrave Park Hospital Duke of Connaught is an orthopaedic day procedure centre which will allow for almost 1,200 additional procedures per year including procedures such as treatment for carpel tunnel, Dupuytren’s contracture and trigger fingers and injections. This will help some of the very long waits across orthopaedic services.

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Regional urology stone services at Craigavon Area Hospital will see an increase in the number of sessions for Extra Corporeal Shockwave Lithotripsy and an increase in productivity per session. This means an additional 1,050 patients per year can be treated.

Turning to ongoing initiatives under the Elective Care Strategy, Mr Swann revealed these include ‘mega-clinics’ across a number of specialities with 600 patients treated already this financial year, in addition to the 6,240 patients treated last year at these clinics.

“The new ways of providing services means that, between September 2021 and May 2022, we have been able to reduce the waits for urgent scoliosis patients from 43 weeks to 4 weeks and for routine scoliosis referrals from 115 weeks to 67 weeks with times continuing to reduce.” Mr Swann said.

“We have also treated approximately 3,000 patients at the Regional Day Procedure Centre at Lagan Valley Hospital and approximately 5,000 patients have received endoscopy procedures at the centre. This is additional regional capacity to help reduce long waits.”

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He pointed to a range of other initiatives in place such as a private Independent Sector provider using vacant theatres in the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen which has already to treated hundreds of patients on waiting lists for hip replacement surgery.

“Over the last few months, there has also been an upturn in orthopaedic surgery, which has allowed increased capacity to treat those who are waiting for new joints and other orthopaedic procedures,” he said.

“Our cancer screening programmes have significantly increased activity and both bowel and breast cancer screening is now above pre-pandemic levels, with bowel screening activity during 2021/22 at 124% of 2019/20 activity and the number of women invited for cancer screening in 2021/22 at 113% compared with 2019/20.”