More than 75,000 patients walked out of A&E departments last year without ever being formally discharged or finishing their treatment.
That included at least 3,400 cases involving sick or injured children presenting for treatment, although those figures are even higher due to data being unavailable for some months because of a cyberattack on the HSE.
The hospitals most impacted by what are known as “did not waits” were the Mater Hospital and Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, as well as University Hospital Limerick.
For Tallaght Hospital, there were 8,329 patients leaving without finishing their treatment with the figure almost hitting 1,000 cases in July of last year.
The next-highest figures were at the Mater Hospital, where there were 6,067 people who “did not wait”, according to data released under FOI.
University Hospital Limerick – which has been plagued by overcrowding in recent months – also saw 5,334 patients leave without being discharged.
An even higher figure was recorded at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, where there were 6,395 people who left without completing their treatment.
Significant “did not wait” figures were also recorded at Cork University Hospital (2,686 patients), Galway University Hospital (2,736 patients), St James’s Hospital in Dublin (5,539 patients), and Dublin’s St Vincent’s Hospital (4,148 patients).
Data for the three children’s hospitals at Crumlin, Temple Street, and Tallaght shows that 3,403 sick or injured children and teenagers left A&E before being formally discharged.
The figures were highest at Crumlin where there were 2,121 “did not waits” recorded.
The data is not entirely complete, with a four-month gap in figures for Temple Street, and a two-month gap for Crumlin due to a cyberattack on their computer systems.
A HSE spokesman said the purpose of emergency departments was to deal with serious and unexpected illness and injury but that many others who could be treated elsewhere still attended.
He said: “In this context, it is inevitable that EDs and their associated hospitals, whose capacity is exceeded by such demand, must clinically prioritise those who must be treated first and those who may need to wait, or attend a more appropriate care setting.”
The spokesman said Irish hospitals used internationally recognised tools for prioritising patients based on their clinical needs.
He said: “Ideally, hospitals would be in a position to treat patients on their arrival. However, as demand inevitably overtakes capacity, prioritisation and consequential waiting may occur. In this regard, some patients with less serious needs may choose to avail of alternatives options.”