More than 523,000 patients wait for appointments

Trolley crisis and nurses’ strike lead to big increase in inpatient and outpatient delays

The number of patients waiting over nine months for a hospital appointment has soared – up more than 12,000 to 208,757. Photograph: ThinkStock

The number of patients waiting over nine months for a hospital appointment has soared – up more than 12,000 to 208,757. Photograph: ThinkStock

 

The number of people awaiting outpatient appointments in public hospitals has risen to a new record of more than 523,000 due to the knock-on effect of the winter trolley crisis and the nurses’ strike.

The figures for January are up 7,000 as a result of the cancellation of appointments during the month to ease overcrowding, and a one-day nurses’ strike on the last day of the month.

The number of patients waiting over nine months for a hospital appointment has also soared – up more than 12,000 to 208,757.

Next month’s figures could be even worse due to the knock-on effects of a further two days of industrial action by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) this month.

Cumulatively, the INMO’s three days of industrial action resulted in the cancellation of more than 80,000 appointments and procedures, which must now be rescheduled.

The number on the inpatient/ day case waiting list for January grew by 2,000 to 72,027, according to the monthly figures published by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF). This marks a partial reversal of the reduction to this list in recent months as a result of heavy investment by the NTPF in outsourced procedures.

Record levels

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said the number of people waiting for an outpatient appointment was the highest total ever recorded.

“Almost 11 per cent of the population are waiting for an outpatient consultation and a huge number of them are waiting a very significant period for one.

“Almost 100,000 people are waiting on the list for over 18 months – four years since Leo Varadkar, as minister for health, set a target that no one would wait more than 18 months. We are further away than ever from reaching that target.”

The inpatient list includes almost 2,000 patients who have been waiting over nine months for a procedure; of these almost 400 are recorded as waiting over 18 months.

The outpatient figures include 46,300 children waiting for an appointment at the three children’s hospitals in Dublin; 39,662 on the waiting list at University Hospital Galway; and 36,696 at the Mater hospital in Dublin.

Mr Donnelly said it was appalling that 11,825 children were waiting over 1½ years for appointments.

The list also shows 19,748 patients are waiting for a gastrointestinal endoscopy, almost 1,000 more than in December 2018.

The NTPF spent €50 million last year on outsourcing of patient operations, many of them to the private sector, and has a budget of €75 million for 2019.

This year, it aims to arrange treatment for 25,000 patients on the inpatient/ daycase waiting list, 5,000 gastrointestinal endoscopies and 40,000 first-time outpatient consultant appointments.

The INMO suspended its strike this week following the intervention of the Labour Court and almost 40,000 members are due to vote on settlement proposals next month.

Responding to the NTPF figures, Minister for Health Simon Harris said: “While I note that the numbers waiting for an inpatient/ day case hospital procedure increased last month, this is a period which coincides with the HSE managing the ED pressures over the peak winter period.

“Undoubtedly these figures also reflect some of the impact arising from the INMO industrial action and the cancellation of elective procedures. The industrial unrest had significant impact across the entire health service.

“The department is currently finalising its waiting list action plan for 2019 with the €75 million allocated for the National Treatment Purchase Fund.”