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'Urgent action' needed on hospital waiting times in Ireland

Urgent action is required to tackle hospital waiting times on both sides of the Irish border, according to the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

A report into the primary healthcare systems of Ireland and Northern Ireland found that both jurisdictions are experiencing similar problems.

These include workforce shortages and increasing expenditure.

On hospital waiting times the problem is worse in Northern Ireland. 

The proportion of people on the waiting list in Northern Ireland for more than one year increased from 20% to 60%. In the Republic of Ireland, during the same period between 2017 and 2021, the figure increased from 12% to 20%.

A key distinction between the healthcare systems is the absence of a universal healthcare system in Ireland, write the authors.

That means in Northern Ireland, all residents are entitled to a wide range of free health care services, while in Ireland, the majority pay to see their GP and for other services.

But despite this key difference, both systems are currently facing similar challenges, including shortages in key areas of the workforce and long waits for a range of healthcare services.

Cross-border collaboration in healthcare across the island is an interesting but contentious issue. At present, according to the ESRI report, that work is relatively limited.

It points to a 2011 report which identified the potential benefits to be gained from increased co-operation in healthcare including collaboration in cystic fibrosis, ear, nose and throat surgery, paediatric cardiac surgery and acute mental health services.

However, this 2022 report concludes that despite some notable exceptions such as the Congenital Heart Disease Network and the North West Cancer Centre at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry, "collaboration has been relatively limited".

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Source: BBC News, 10 March 2022


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