Hospital consultants and the opposition have slammed new figures which show that a record number of people are now on waiting lists for medical treatment.
The latest National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) report showed the number of people on waiting lists has grown by 100,000 in just the past year, to a total of 883,767. That figure includes 21,420 patients now waiting for more than a year for essential hospital treatment.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said the spiralling figures showed that a dedicated unit set up more than three years ago by the Department of Health to tackle the issue had failed.
The Scheduled and Unscheduled Care Performance Unit (SUCPU) was set up in 2017, but since then an additional 130,000 people are now awaiting an outpatient appointment to see a consultant.
The IHCA also said existing problems will be exacerbated by the return of the trolley crisis, with latest figures showing the highest number of people on trolleys since the onset of the pandemic.
IHCA president Alan Irvine said: “By any standards, this is a very disappointing performance. The Department of Health’s unit should be an imaginative solution-focussed hub and incubator for new ideas.
"This requires shared leadership and collaborative engagement with hospital consultants who provide the medical and surgical care and their representatives to ensure an improved public hospital service for the Irish people.”
The IHCA said new consultants were needed in the health system and Prof Irvine added: "Every single one of these numbers represents a person and a family seeking healthcare; every single request will be reviewed and triaged by our members, who know better than anyone the professional disappointment of being unable to offer a timely appointment to a person in need of care for — in many cases — several years."
Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said that, when the number of people who missed care as a result of a 16% drop in outpatient referrals in 2020 was added to the number of patients detailed in the report, it meant more than a million people were waiting for some form of treatment.
Calling for additional beds, theatre space, and personnel, Mr Cullinane said: "This is a very serious crisis.
“There is a serious backlog of procedures which also needs to be caught up on — planned procedures were down 401,014 on 2019 levels.
“This represents a serious shortfall in healthcare delivery that will need to be caught up on urgently to prevent conditions from getting far worse."
According to the NTPF report, at the end of April, 76,972 patients were waiting for an appointment for their inpatient or day-case treatment; 34,394 patients were waiting to receive an appointment for their GI endoscopy; and 630,305 patients are waiting for a first hospital outpatient consultation.