Fewer surgeries and longer waiting lists due to pandemic, finds report

More than 30,000 people currently waiting for a general surgery procedure

Fewer surgeries were performed and waiting lists for surgical procedures increased as a result of the pandemic, a new report has revealed.

There were 17 per cent fewer emergency surgeries performed during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report published by the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI).

Some 30 per cent fewer elective surgeries were performed during the same time frame, according to data from the RCSI National Clinical Programme in Surgery (NCPS).

The most significant reduction in surgical discharges occurred in April and May 2020, which was at the very start of the pandemic.


During these months, surgical discharges dropped to just 34.7 per cent of 2019’s average monthly volumes.

From April 2020 to April 2021, there was a 153 per cent increase in the number of surgical patients waiting longer than 12 months for their procedures.

The total surgical outpatient waiting list also increased by 15 per cent.

General surgery is the specialty that has the highest number of patients on waiting lists, with 31,517 people currently waiting for a procedure.

Orthopaedics has 10,393 patients on waiting lists and urology has 9,797.

As of April 2021, 27 per cent of the 76,949 cases on waiting lists for inpatient care, day cases and endoscopy procedures were deemed urgent.

Patient access to urgent ear, nose and throat surgery was significantly curtailed, resulting in over 100,000 patients now waiting for their first specialist appointment.

Professor Deborah McNamara, the NCPS Co-Lead, said that it is important to remember how little was known about Covid in early 2020.

“Italian hospitals were overrun, with inadequate ventilators and ICU beds. Reports indicated high postoperative mortality among surgical patients who acquired COVID-19, raising significant concerns about patient safety,” she said.

“As a result, deferral of non-essential surgery was uniformly advised. The waiting lists we see today are the consequence of that deferral. We now need to increase surgical activity across the health service to meet the needs of these patients.”

Mr Kenneth Mealy, Co-Lead of the NCPS, said that the pandemic has exacerbated already unsustainable waiting lists.

“The HSE must act to immediately protect capacity for scheduled surgery. RCSI and the Irish surgical community will work with the HSE and hospital managers to maximise the use of surgical capacity, ensuring that patients have swifter access to care, once that capacity is ring-fenced,” he said.

In a statement, the HSE said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly would soon announce a waiting list action plan, to be jointly governed by the Department of Health, HSE and National Treatment Purchase Fund, to address acute scheduled care waiting lists during the winter period.

“Work on a longer-term multi-annual waiting list action plan is also well underway,” it said.