With almost 559,000 patients waiting for their first hospital outpatient appointment, it is clear that the health authorities never got on top of the issue, says patient advocate, Stephen McMahon.
Mr McMahon, chairman and co-founder of the Irish Patients Association, is concerned that public hospital waiting lists could become even worse because of the coronavirus crisis.
“Going into this crisis we never got on top of normal demand such as waiting lists for operations or to see a consultant,” he said.
The latest public hospital waiting list data published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund shows that 558,554 patients were waiting for a first outpatient consultation last month. In January 556,770 were waiting.
Last month 66,705 patients were waiting for an appointment for their inpatient or day-case treatment, a slight decrease from the 67,303 waiting in January.
“The normal resources to treat patients with coronavirus have been sucked out of the system to deal with normal demand; this means that waiting lists will rise until the system stabilises,” said Mr McMahon.
President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, Dr Donal O’Hanlon, said there is work to do both acutely and in the long term to look after the patients.
“ In these unpredictable and unprecedented times, we are supporting our front-line staff who may have to curtail usual operations to look after urgently sick patients.
“The focus understandably is on freeing up bed capacity to allow for the coronavirus surge, so the cancellation of non-essential surgery is necessary given the scale of the challenge we are facing.
“For now, we have to all work together to create capacity in the immediate term and we welcome the contingency steps taken so far by the Department of Health and the HSE.”
Dr O’Hanlon said hospital consultants are focused on supporting all patients at this time and urged the public to abide by the official guidance on hand washing and social distancing.