A record 908,519 patients in Ireland are now on some form of a public hospital waiting list to be treated or assessed by a consultant, according to new data.
At the end of July, 77,537 patients were waiting for an appointment for their inpatient or day case treatment, while 652,498 patients were waiting for a first hospital outpatient consultation, up by more than 51,000 from the same period last year.
The latest public hospital waiting list data was published on Friday by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), following a two-month delay due to the cyberattack on the HSE.
Members of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) expressed "extreme concern" at the new record number of people on waiting lists and said the low number of consultants was "the root cause of the unacceptably long waiting lists".
The backlog was “dangerously close to overwhelming our public hospitals”, the IHCA said in a statement.
Already, more than 268,500 were waiting longer than a year for public hospital outpatient appointments for assessment, up by 15 per cent since July 2020 and a seven-fold increase over the past seven years.
A total of 20,513 patients were waiting more than a year for hospital care, representing an 88-fold increase since 2012.
The figures did not include those waiting for hospital diagnostics such as MRI scans or radiology.
Speaking about the new figures, Prof Rob Landers, vice-president of the IHCA, said "every single one of these represents a person and a family seeking healthcare, often while experiencing pain, suffering and the psychological distress at not knowing when they will be able to receive treatment."
Hospital consultants wanted to “help alleviate this distress and provide the care they need” but were hindered from doing so due to an ongoing consultant recruitment and retention crisis.
“This must be addressed effectively to fill the one in five permanent consultant posts that are currently vacant or filled on a temporary basis,” Mr Landers said.
The association had warned in recent days that the waiting lists were due to reach such record levels and were “likely to worsen in the coming months” as more people who have put off seeking care because of concerns about Covid-19 begin to seek treatment.
“This is due not only to the pandemic or cyberattack on the HSE, but the persistent underinvestment in hospital infrastructure, bed capacity and consultant recruitment over the past decade and more.”
“Despite the success of the vaccine rollout, the hard work and dedication of frontline doctors and their colleagues, our public hospitals now face a challenge of almost equal magnitude to Covid,” Mr Landers said.
Reducing the record number of people on waiting lists would take "years to achieve" and multi-annual budgeting from the Department of Health was needed to resolve the issue, Mr Landers added.