The number of people waiting more than six months for hospital appointments has soared since the start of this year.
New figures revealed by the Department of Health show that despite Health Minister Dr James Reilly’s repeated attempts to cut times, the number of patients waiting more than half a year has risen by a massive 88% since December.
The situation emerged just a day after the minister announced €18m of “new” funds to tackle the issue, and two years after he set up the Special Delivery Unit to address emergency department and waiting list problems.
Between the end of December and the end of April the number of people waiting more than six months to be treated in hospital rose from 6,038 to 11,348.
Consumer website www.irishhealth.com said the situation was repeated in the six to nine-month bracket, where waiting lists rose from 5,931 to 7,633.
Among the nine to 12-month category the number of patients unable to access the care they need also rose substantially over the same period, from 71 at the end of last year to 3,062 just three weeks ago.
The average waiting time for hospital treatment now stands at three months, compared to 2.5 months at the end of 2012, while the number of people waiting to be treated has risen from 44,047 to 47,943.
At the longest wait levels, this includes 6,708 patients — many of whom are elderly — being told they cannot receive the help they need for more than four years, and 7,505 facing a similar three-to-four year wait.
The minister has previously stated his intention that no one will have to wait more than eight months for hospital treatment by the end of this year, and that first-time outpatient appointment waits will also be capped at one year by the end of 2013.
However, the latest figures suggest this will be an increasingly difficult goal to achieve, in part due to cutbacks, dwindling budgets, seasonal illnesses and the impact they are having on hospital capacity.
As revealed by the Irish Examiner yesterday, Dr Reilly has attempted to address this situation by announcing €18m of “new” funds to tackle the issue.
However, it remains unclear whether this “extra” funding will be in addition to the health service’s budget, or whether it will be re-routed from other parts of the under-pressure system.
A spokesman for the minister said the rise in patient treatment waits was partially the result of departmental calls to slow down elective procedures in order to free up space in hospitals for more pressing matters.
Since coming to office Dr Reilly has repeatedly pointed to the need to cut down on hospital waiting lists, and has pointed to an overall drop in waits in the first two years of his tenure as evidence that his Special Delivery Unit plan to tackle the matter is working.
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