Number of patients waiting more than six months for treatment rises by 25%

Health trends report highlights the ‘significant impact’ of Covid

There has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of people waiting more than six months on an inpatient waiting list since the onset of the pandemic, a new report has found.

The Health in Ireland Key Trends 2021 report, prepared by the Department of Health, found that the Covid-19 crisis has had a significant impact on the health service, and waiting lists in particular.

Hospital activity was greatly affected by the pandemic, the report states, with total discharges for inpatient and day cases falling over 14 per cent in 2020, and emergency department (ED) attendances falling over 15 per cent.

The effects on hospital waiting lists were “significant”, the report added.


In October 2021, there were over 28,000 adults and almost 4,000 children waiting more than six months on a waiting list, which was 25 per cent higher than in March 2020.

The report also showed the number of staff members working in the health service increased during the pandemic. There were over 1,700 more nurses and almost 900 more doctors working in the HSE by the end of 2020, compared to the end of 2019, the report states.

The increase in healthcare workers contributed to an expenditure increase of over €3 billion between 2019 and 2020, it added.

Separate data published on Wednesday showed one in every 25 Health Service Executive (HSE) staff was currently off work due to Covid-19 infection or being a close contact of a case. The 5,800 employees who are absent amounts to 4 per cent of total staffing and compares to 1,800 a month ago.

Outside of Covid-19, the key trends report says that lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, levels of physical activity and obesity continue to be issues “which have the potential to jeopardise many of the health gains achieved in recent years”.

The number of people being treated for drug use, excluding alcohol, is just under 10,000 people per year. The number dropped slightly between 2019 and 2020, but has been increasing overall since 2011.

For drug use, including alcohol, the number of people receiving treatment decreased from 17,608 to 15,127 between 2019 and 2020, the first decline in three years.

The report also highlights the country’s ageing population. The number of people aged 65 and over will grow from one-fifth to over one-third of the working population over the next two decades which will have implications on the way in which health services are funded.

“Inequalities in health are closely linked with wider social determinants including living and working conditions, issues of service access, and cultural and physical environments,” the report states.

“Taken together with an ageing population, adverse trends, if not addressed now, will lead to an unhealthy and costly future.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the report provides an "important opportunity" to review the impact to date of the Covid-19 pandemic on the deployment of healthcare resources.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that our health service is resilient, but we continue to face an ongoing challenge to address the need for both Covid and non-Covid care.”

He added that Ireland’s changing demographics will emerge as “the singular greatest challenge we face when planning our health service into the future”.

“The good news is that people are living longer, and we need to ensure that more of these years, particularly in later life, are spent in good health with care provided in the home or in the community,” he added.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times