The number of people on waiting lists for various medical procedures has reached almost one million, according to Fianna Fáil, which has labelled the situation a "national scandal".
It said those listed by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), the organisation that monitors waiting times and volumes in public hospitals, had reached 717,419 by June.
However, Fianna Fáil said the NTPF data does not include people awaiting diagnostic scans – latest available figures for April showed 135,000 people in need of MRIs, ultrasounds and CT scans. Combining those headline figures with several other sources of data on people awaiting services, and the total had reached 997,258 according to the latest available information.
Fianna Fáil published its calculations ahead of the planned release on Wednesday by Minister for Health Simon Harris of details of his implementation plan for Sláintecare, which seeks to significantly reduce waiting times and end the two-tier nature of the Irish healthcare system.
Pressure has been mounting on the Government following its apparent inability to bring the strain on hospital services under control.
"The very fact that there are almost one million people waiting for an appointment speaks for itself," said Fianna Fáil's deputy leader Dara Calleary. "Never before have we seen a situation whereby people have been failed so badly by a Government."
Among other figures, Fianna Fáil pointed to pressure on community care. By June, it said, there were 37,229 people waiting for either speech and language therapy or assessment. A further 31,361 were awaiting occupational therapy assessment in the same month.
“The scale of these waiting lists is truly shocking, and highlights very clearly the level of demand and the lack of capacity available to meet it. The latest available figures reveal that over 148,000 outpatients had been waiting over one year to see a consultant,” Mr Calleary said.
Fianna Fáil also pointed to ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute) projections that demand for public hospital services could increase by up to 37 per cent for inpatient bed days by 2030.
Meanwhile, daily trolley figures for Tuesday, released by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO), which measure both emergency departments and wards, showed there were 433 people waiting for beds, an increase of 32 per cent on the same day last year.
“This all comes down to pay. Health service capacity isn’t keeping up because they simply can’t find nurses and midwives to work at these wages,” said INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha, of the overall pressure on the health service.
In response, the HSE said a key priority was tackling long patient waiting times. The latest NTPF figures showed the number of patients awaiting inpatient/day-case procedures had continued to decrease, dropping by 582 since the end of May. “This represents a decrease of over 8,000 patients when compared to June 2017,” it said.
In 2018, the HSE will carry out 1.14 million planned inpatient/day-case procedures and additional funding provided through the NTPF “will ensure additional treatment and procedures are made available which will ultimately help to improve wait times for patients”.
The HSE, together with the NTPF and the Department of Health, was finalising an outpatient action plan for 2018 to tackle waiting times.
“Last year almost half a million [479,00)] outpatients did not attend their outpatient appointment,” it said. “Hospitals have been contacting all patients waiting over six months to see if they require their appointment. This is to ensure we improve overall use of resources.”
It said improvements were being made to community based services. “We would note that in the areas referenced – psychology, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, home support services and assessment of need – we are meeting stated targets, demonstrating that access to quality-driven services is being provided.”