Number waiting for outpatient treatment rises to record level

New hospital access strategy announced as 504,000-plus on medical procedures queue

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “There are too many people waiting to see specialists to get procedures, but we shouldn’t judge hospitals based on waiting lists or trolley figures.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar: “There are too many people waiting to see specialists to get procedures, but we shouldn’t judge hospitals based on waiting lists or trolley figures.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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The number of people waiting for outpatient hospital procedures climbed to a record high of more than 504,000 last month.

Waiting list data released on Friday by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) showed outpatient numbers had swelled to 504,111 compared to 500,800 in February and 502,482 in January.

March figures show the highest number of people on public hospital waiting lists since NTPF figures began in 2014.

The revelation comes just one day after the Government announced a strategy to combat hospital waiting times which have continued to grow.

More than 77,500 outpatients have now been left waiting for procedures for more than a year and a half.

There were also increases in those waiting for in-patient and day-patient procedures, from 79,039 in February to 80,058 last month. The figure for January was slightly higher at 80,204.

Of those waiting on the March list for inpatient and day-case procedures, 4,318 were children, and 481 of those have been waiting more than 18 months.

Under its new initiative announced this week, the Government said it hopes this year to remove about 17,000 people from in-patient and day-case waiting lists, reducing the list to fewer than 70,000 by the end of the year.

On Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said concentrating on hospital overcrowding and trolley figures was not helpful to patients or staff.

Trolley figures

“We have a problem in our health service with access. There are too many people waiting to see specialists to get procedures, but we shouldn’t judge hospitals based on waiting lists or trolley figures,” he said at the opening of a new 75-bed ward block at University Hospital Galway.

“More people are now surviving cancer and heart diseases, and 85 per cent of our patients take a wider view and report a good experience.”

Mr Varadkar said more than 300 beds are to be added across the country this year, with 2,500 over the coming decade.

“We know, however . . . that extra staff, beds and money will not reduce waiting times for patients or overcrowding if it’s not done in tandem with modernised systems and ever more efficient practices.”

On Friday, the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) reported 505 people waiting on trolleys and on wards for admission to hospital beds. On Wednesday the figure was almost at the 600 mark.

In the first three days of this week, the INMO said there were 1,718 patients deemed to require admission by doctors but left waiting; while in the same period last year, there were 46 per cent fewer people in the same situation.

Its general secretary, Phil Ni Sheaghdha, said this inability to manage patient flow placed the burden on nursing and medical staff, forced to work in “intolerable conditions”.

“Staff are constantly apologising to patients for the inhumane conditions in which they are forced to care for them and they cannot see any reprieve as we leave the winter period,” she said. “We are now in the second week of April and the figures are getting higher. “

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