New figures showing that more than 75,000 hospital appointments have been cancelled over the past three years reveal the pressure on the health service from cutbacks and growing patient numbers.
The Health Service Executive says the cancellations are mainly due to closure of wards for cost-containment measures and a lack of capacity caused by emergency admissions.
At least 25,317 day-case and 50,433 inpatient appointments were cancelled in 2010, 2011 and the first 10 months of this year, the figures supplied by the HSE show. The total is, in fact, higher, since about 13 of the 40 hospitals do not supply figures regularly to the HSE.
Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the figures reflected a system struggling with the demand-led emergency workload after staff budget cutbacks. “They simply fly in the face of Minister for Health James Reilly’s so-called reform agenda,” he said.
The Irish Patients’ Association expressed concern that the health of some could deteriorate before new appointments were fixed.
“The cancellation of appointments, especially at short notice, can cause huge disruption for patients,” spokesman Stephen McMahon said.
“In some cases, people will have had to make arrangements for the care of a family member and travel long distances to fulfil the appointment.”
He said that, separate from any cancellations, over 350,000 patients were on waiting lists for a first hospital appointment. The data for this year shows 6,311 day-case and 12,772 inpatient appointments were cancelled to the end of October. The figures also reveal huge variations in cancellations in different hospitals.
St James’s Hospital in Dublin accounts for almost one-third of the total, with 21,782 cancelled day-case and inpatient cancellations over the three-year period. The vast majority were for inpatients .
Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, which treats sick children, accounted for 18,780 cancellations. In contrast, only 140 cancellations are recorded for Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.
Dr Reilly is due to unveil his plans shortly for a radical reorganisation of the health service through the grouping of hospitals in different regions.
However, critics claim the process will see smaller hospitals downgraded by grouping them with larger hospitals.
Publication of Dr Reilly’s proposals has been delayed until after Christmas.