Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Primary Care, John Brassil has criticised the fact that there are major waiting lists and waiting times for essential healthcare services in the primary care sector, with thousands of patients waiting over a year for vital medical appointments.

He explained, “While a lot of attention is naturally focussed on the hospital waiting lists published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund, there are major deficits in primary care too. The information provided to Fianna Fáil has shown that there are over 127,000 people on eight waiting lists in primary care, with more than 18,000 waiting over a year.

“The eight primary care waiting lists refer to audiology, ophthalmology, podiatry, dietetics, physiotherapy and two lists for speech and language therapy, initial and further treatment.

“The biggest of the waiting lists is in physiotherapy with 37,392 waiting for an assessment. 2,200 of these people are on the list for more than a year. Research has shown time and again that waiting so long for treatment could well increase the risk of long-term disability.

“In ophthalmology 17,515 are waiting on an appointment. More than a third (6,361) are on the list for more than a year. It is simply unacceptable that the sight of so many people should be put at risk with such long waiting times.

“Dietetics is an increasingly important area. Dietitians apply their knowledge of food, nutrition and related disciplines to promote health, prevent disease and contribute to the management of disease. However, at the end of March, there were 14,963 people waiting to see a dietician, with 3,222 waiting for more than a year – that’s more than a fifth of the list.

“Similarly, some 16,193 are on a list to see an audiologist – a professional trained to evaluate and rehabilitate people with hearing loss and related disorders. 2,084 of those waiting have being doing so for more than a year.

“Then we have some 38,424 waiting for various types of speech and language therapy appointments. Waiting lists such as these may not have the profile of others and the conditions may not be life threatening but they are critical to a healthy quality of life, something that will become ever more challenging with the demographic changes that are coming.

“The Government promised a decisive shift to primary care three years ago. However just €4.5 million was being allocated for new developments in primary care in the 2019 HSE Service Plan. That amounts to an increase of 0.5% – and was entirely for termination of pregnancy services.

“Indeed, on a like for like basis, as a share of the HSE budget, expenditure on primary care is falling from 6.9% to 6.6%. This will make it much harder to address the long waiting times that have become common place for community health services”, concluded Deputy Brassil.