Public hospital waiting lists have risen again, to a new record of 665,618 patients waiting in a queue for some form of care.
Worryingly, the number of people languishing on the list for more than a year is also up – by almost 7,000 in the space of a month for outpatients, and by almost 1,000 for inpatients.
The number of outpatients waiting for a hospital appointment has now grown by almost 58,000 since Simon Harris was appointed Minister for Health a year ago. Over that time, more than 10,000 additional people have joined the queue for inpatient procedures.
Overall, there are 577,911 on the traditional lists for surgery, a specialist appointment or endoscopy procedure, up from 569,887 in February, according to the latest figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund.
A further 87,707 patients are on two unpublished lists collated by the NTPF. There were 26,243 on the “pre-admit” list (these have treatment scheduled within six weeks) and 61,464 on the “planned procedures list”; many of these have return appointments for endoscopy checks and are not regarded by the HSE as waiting.
Since last month, the outpatient queue has grown by almost 7,000, while the inpatient list is up by about 500. The NTPF records 19,096 people waiting for a gastro-intestinal test, up by more than 1,000 on the previous month.
The continuing increase in the size of public lists is in part due to the knock-on effects of the post-Christmas trolley crisis that forced the cancellation of thousands of scheduled appointments. Staff shortages, a lack of stepdown beds for patients well enough to leave hospital and poor management have also been blamed.
The Government plans to spend €50 million this year on initiatives to cut waiting lists, but the latest figures from the NTPF show this work has yet to have any significant impact.
Mr Harris admitted the figures were disappointing but pointed out that the number of patients waiting between 15 and 18 months for an appointment or procedure had fallen for the second month in a row.
“I’m please we’re beginning to show progress in that category and I would expect significant reductions in those waiting over 15 months later in the year,” the Minister said, speaking in Wexford at the annual conference of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
The Private Hospitals Association said the figures point to the urgent need for a public-private partnership to make inroads into the massive backlogs. The group said it was available for urgent discussions with the Minister to assist in reducing the lists before another winter crisis is upon the public system.
"Private hospitals will run theatres 12 hours a day and at weekends to tackle the lists. The misery for patients needs to end and private hospitals can do that safely and efficiently once it is given the green light," said chief executive Simon Nugent.