Almost 557,000 patients are waiting for a first hospital consultation and thousands more have joined the queue over the last two months, it has emerged.
Latest public hospital waiting-list data shows that 556,770 people were waiting for a first hospital outpatient consultation at the end of January — an increase of 3,336 since the end of December.
The data, published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund, shows that 67,303 patients are waiting for inpatient or day-case treatment, with 740 joining the list since December.
Patient advocate Stephen McMahon said the outpatient waiting list needed to be addressed immediately.
Mr McMahon, who is chairman and co-founder of the Irish Patients’ Association, said Ireland continuesd to have one of the worst waiting times in Europe.
“Our waiting times pose a big challenge for the next minister who enters the doors of the Department of Health,” he said.
Health minister Simon Harris said that he believes Sláintecare reforms could be completed before 2030.
However, Mr McMahon said the patients languishing on waiting lists needed care today, and could not wait for the “promised land” of Sláintecare.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association said 776,499 people were on waiting lists for care across the country’s acute public hospitals, a 46,562 increase on the January 2019 figure.
Orthopaedics, ear, nose and throat (ENT), dermatology, ophthalmology, general surgery, urology, and gynaecology specialities have the largest numbers of patients waiting for hospital care.
IHCA president Dr Donal O’Hanlon described the figures as “extremely disappointing”.
“Another year had passed without any discernible improvement for patients in accessing the country’s public hospitals,” he said.
“The figures continue to go in the wrong direction, which is unacceptable.
“Last weekend voters gave their views on the current poor state of public hospital services — voting decisively for the immediate improvements in access and delivery of hospital care.
“The next Government must now listen to what voters want and quickly move to address the overwhelming capacity deficits in our public hospitals.”
Dr O’Hanlon said the lack of capacity, as well as the consultant recruitment and retention crisis, were key factors in the long wait times faced by patients in the health system.
“Increasing beds and filling the over 500 vacant consultant posts must be urgently addressed to reduce the unacceptable waiting lists and provide timely quality care to patients.”
There are 52,734 children are now waiting for care at the three children’s hospitals which form part of the Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) hospital group.
However, the IHCA has pointed out that the NTPF figures do not represent the full extent of adults and children who are waiting for care across Ireland.
Excluded are additional key patient groupings, including children seeking care in other hospitals that are not part of the CHI hospital group, and adults and children awaiting diagnostics such as MRI or CAT scans, ultrasounds or X-rays.