Wait times may soar, warns Reilly
Health Minister James Reilly has admitted hospital waiting lists could soar as plans to eradicate them are implemented.
Dr Reilly has revealed his ambitious plan to cut chronic delays for surgery within three years through a Special Delivery Unit (SDU), as promised under the Programme for Government.
But the minister warned that with no immediate solution it could take 18 months to deliver.
"It's not our intention that waiting lists will rise but they could be in the short term," he said.
"But in the long term, definitely not."
The minister announced that Dr Martin Connor - who he described as an international expert who cut waiting lists in Northern Ireland - was being given six months to set up the unit.
It will initially concentrate on reducing numbers on trolleys in emergency departments over the winter months, before targeting in-patient waiting lists. Out-patients times and access to diagnostics will then be considered.
Dr Connor vowed to put the patient at the heart of his plans, by September.
He stressed improvement can be made in waiting lists by working differently.
"It's not an easy ask but it's not an impossible ask," he added.
It is understood the new unit will receive about 29 million euro (£25.5 million) from the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which sources treatment for public patients who are waiting longest for surgery - usually in private hospitals.
More than 25,000 people waiting over three months or more for surgery are currently on the register.
Health chiefs have denied the fund was stopping referrals at the end of next month.
But Dr Reilly said the fund has been asked not to take on any new clients until Dr Connor was appointed so they could work together to reduce lists.
Fianna Fail's health spokesman Billy Kelleher expressed serious concerns about the lack of information on the SDU.
"There was no information today on how long it will take for the SDU to be set up," Mr Kelleher said.
"We are concerned that patients will be faced with further delays while this SDU is being set up, and how long it will be before the unit starts having an impact on waiting lists.
"Will patients be faced with increased waiting lists in the meantime? Without this information, all we know is that it looks like another level of bureaucracy is being introduced, and that would be a retrograde step."
© Press Association