HEALTH Minister David Anderson believes significant improvements are being made to hospital waiting lists.
Concerns were raised about the length of waiting lists, particularly relating to orthopaedics and the pain clinic, at a hearing of the Social Affairs policy review committee where it was suggested the only way to make improvements was to open an extra operating theatre currently lying dormant at Noble’s.
In Tynwald this month, Alfred Cannan (Michael) called for an action plan to tackle ‘unacceptable’ waiting lists, including a three year wait for pain management and dermatology and two years for hip and knee and orthopaedic surgery - and claimed existing initiatives were ‘merely scraping the edge of this quite serious problem’.
At last week’s scrutiny committee hearing, David Callister MLC suggested some waiting lists were ‘extraordinarily long’.
But giving his evidence, the Health Minister said significant improvements were being made and he hoped to provide tangible evidence of this when he gives a presentation to Tynwald members later this year.
He said improvements had been made to administration which had led to the number of patients who did not attend appointments had been reduced.
But committee member Steve Rodan suggested the only real answer to waiting list problems would be to open an extra operating theatre at Noble’s.
He said the UK had through hundreds of thousands of pounds into the NHS to tackle waiting lists. He said: ‘We are never going to get grips with this problem until we open a sixth operation theatre at a cost of £1 million a year. That’s what’s really needed.’
Mr Anderson said the issue had been a political football in the UK.
He said: ‘If we open our extra theatre it would cost well over £1 million and that’s only staff costs.’ An extra 17 staff would be needed if the seventh operating theatre did open, he said.
The Minister said it would never be possible to satisfy the appetite for health services whose budget would continue to come under pressure. There was an increasing number of people living longer which meant medical intervention was also rising substantially.
‘We hope to demonstrate to Tynwald members that we’ve made significant improvements and give tangible evidence of this. Obviously, we have to keep within our budget. We can make our case to Treasury as to why our budget should be ring-fenced.’
But he said he had to be realistic and even if the department knew it was getting the money it would not be able justify the extra head count.
The Minister suggested there may be other initiatives that would benefit a greater number of patients.
Committee chairman Brenda Cannell asked if there was any flexibility in the budget to a number of smaller initiatives. She suggested that there could be a cost benefit of sending more serious orthopaedic cases to the UK for surgery
Mr Anderson replied money for any initiatives would have to be found within the existing health budget. He said a business case was being put forward for cataract surgery and clinicians were looking at the best way of delivering this at Noble’s. ‘At the moment it’s looking positive. It’s something that’s a top priority because I think it could be fairly cost neutral.’
The Minister said sending more patients to consultants in the UK would put even more pressure on the budget. He said there were now fewer repeat referrals back to the UK. Health chief executive David Killip said some patients liked to go back to the see the doctor in the UK were not ‘terribly happy’ when they were told their case could be managed perfectly well at Noble’s.