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[Irish Medical Times] , Lynch, Priscilla GP rejects relevance of methadone waiting list drop. (22 Aug 2012)

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A leading GP addiction expert has dismissed as irrelevant recent claims by the Department of Health that methadone waiting lists are dropping significantly around the country.

Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for Primary Care Róisín Shortall recently issued a statement welcoming figures compiled by the HSE that showed a 19 per cent reduction (230 down to 187) in the number of people waiting for opioid substitution treatment between the end of March 2011 to the end of April 2012.

Since November 2011, the HSE has been reviewing areas that have large methadone treatment waiting lists and recruiting Level 2 GPs where required. The Executive has now reported that 22 of its 48 clinics have no waiting times, and that 33 of the 48 have waiting times of less than a month, which the Minister welcomed.

However, speaking to IMT, Blackrock-based addiction expert and GP Dr Cathal Ó Súilliobháin questioned the relevance of the figures and said the reality on the ground was quite different from what was being proclaimed.

“It is completely meaningless to say there is a wonderful improvement in waiting lists when access to methadone treatment is very limited or non-existent in many areas outside Dublin. Using these HSE waiting lists when the numbers weren’t even being validated until a few months ago is disingenuous, to say the least,” he commented, while calling for an independent external validation of the lists and current services.

Dr Ó Súilliobháin said that simply ringing up people on the waiting lists and removing those who did not respond (which he claimed recently happened in the Midlands) made it look like there was a great improvement, but this was not accurate, as people may have changed numbers and addresses, having been on the waiting list for some time.

“In addition, the waiting lists are relatively meaningless in areas where there is no treatment, which includes most of rural Ireland. People who have a heroin habit are unlikely to sign up for treatment when they know there is a year or two-year waiting list in the area they are in.”

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