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Written Answers. - Hospital Waiting Lists.

Thursday, 17 October 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 555 No. 4

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 109. Mr. G. Mitchell Information on Gay Mitchell Zoom on Gay Mitchell  asked the Minister for Health and Children Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin  in view of the long waiting times on the occupational therapy waiting lists, and in particular that of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8, and copy reply on the situation from the Eastern Regional Health Authority stating that it could be up to four years before this situation improves, the proposals he has to bring this waiting list in line with An Agreed Programme for Government in order that no one remains on a health waiting list for longer than six months in the short-term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18622/02]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O'Malley): Information on Tim O'Malley Zoom on Tim O'Malley The provision of health related support services, including occupational therapy, is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. Funding is provided to the health boards to address the waiting lists on a priority basis.

The commitments that the Deputy refers to in the programme for government, which reflect timings set out in the health strategy Quality & Fairness – A Health System for You, relate to the reform of the in-patient and out-patient acute hospital services. It is acknowledged that there are difficulties also with regard to the recruitment and retention of staff in the various therapy grades and consequently this reflects on the length of the waiting list for a range of community based services. In this regard, the health strategy sets out the need to recruit the required staff, including additional staff in the occupational therapy grades. My Department commissioned a report – Current and Future Supply [1198] and Demand in the Labour Market for Certain Professional Therapists from Dr. Peter Bacon and Associates.

The Bacon Report, which was published in July 2001, concluded that a major expansion is essential in the numbers of therapy professionals over the next 15 years including an increase of more than 150% in occupational therapists. This will require a significant increase in training places with a recommended annual increase of 75 places for occupational therapy.

To advance this core recommendation of the report, an interagency working group, comprising officials from the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science and the Higher Education Authority, was established to seek proposals from third level institutions to ensure the rapid provision of the additional therapy training places. On 29 May 2002, the former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Michael Woods, announced the provision of 175 extra professional therapy training places for students to tackle the acute shortage of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists in the health service. This initiative almost doubles the number of therapy places available at present and it is expected that the first intake to the extra places for speech and language therapy will commence in the 2003-2004 academic year.

Other key recommendations of the report include: provision of sufficient clinical placements within the health service through the establishment of a national network of clinical placement co-ordinators; the need for fast-track qualification and review of the existing training system; concerted recruitment from overseas; establishment of the planned system of statutory registration consistent with the requirement for a patient-centred health service; career structure, workload, working practices and skills-mix issues encompassed in the context of the report of the expert group on various health professions published in April 2000.

I understand the Deputy has received correspondence from the Eastern Regional Health Authority in relation to the recruitment of additional therapy staff.

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