A record 382,000 people are waiting for a hospital outpatient appointment, according to the latest figures from the Health Service Executive. Waiting times for most other categories of appointment also increased last November, the HSE's performance assurance report for the month shows.
The number of patients on outpatient and other waiting lists is likely to have increased substantially since then, because thousands of elective appointments were cancelled last month in an effort to get the trolley crisis under control.
Minister for Health Leo Varadkar admitted as much in his response to the latest figures and said it was clear activity would have to be "ramped up" in the spring and summer. However, he added: "This will of course be subject to finance being available".
As part of changes made in the last budget, the HSE had the capacity to reinvest any additional savings it made back into services, he pointed out.
Mr Varadkar pointed to the role played by increased activity in driving up waiting lists. Emergency department attendances are up 3.5 per cent, admissions by 1.8 per cent and outpatient attendances by 3 per cent.
The figures show delayed discharges, at 835, were a major problem back in November; the persistence of high numbers of delayed discharges after Christmas was a major contributory factor behind the trolley crisis.
Mr Varadkar predicted that some of the figures would improve over the winter. January figures would show a reduction in delayed discharges and a fall in waiting times for the Fair Deal nursing home scheme.
On the outpatient list, 55,733 were waiting for more than 12 months, compared to 51,537 in October. Over 3,700 children attending one of the three Dublin children’s hospitals are on the list for over a year.
The number of adults waiting over eight months for a planned procedure was 12,540, up 8 per cent on the previous month and seven times the level at the start of the year. The number of children waiting longer than the 20 week target time for a procedure was up 9 per cent on the previous month.
Most hospitals were substantially over budget – University Hospital Limerick by over €24 million and Waterford Regional Hospital by €13 million.