Children suffering on waiting lists as total tops 643,000
Hospital waiting lists have reached a record high with 643,828 public patients now in some form of queue for treatment or care.
The figures - which include the 'official' and so-called 'hidden' lists - continued to spiral last month as the plight of many patients, including children with scoliosis, touched the nation after an RTÉ 'Investigates' exposé.
The official waiting list figures rose from 545,147 in January to 556,008 and included patients needing surgery, an outpatient appointment or endoscopy.
The previously unpublished figures, which include patients who have received an appointment and others who have been treated but need follow-up care, bring the full queue to 643,828.
There are now 83,803 waiting for surgery, including 4,928 in the three children's hospitals.
There were 4,896 children waiting at the end of January, highlighting the worsening predicament for many youngsters whose condition is deteriorating.
The number of children waiting a year or more has risen from 732 to 1,017.
Nationally, there are now 454,487 adults and children waiting for an outpatient appointment.
The grim figures, compiled by the National Treatment Purchase Fund, come despite promises by Health Minister Simon Harris to tackle waiting lists.
The worsening scenario for many thousands of patients comes against a background of ongoing pressure on beds due to the overcrowding in emergency departments.
Although the gridlock in emergency departments was not as severe in February as in January, there are many days when over 500 patients are on trolleys.
The Irish Independent reported how some hospitals are hoping to install prefabs on their grounds to ease overcrowding, but this is likely to take months due to the need to secure a supplier and also get the necessary planning permission.
Some €20m is to be spent this year by the NTPF buying private care for public patients, mostly in private hospitals.
Around €5m is being spent in the coming months with the rest later in the year.
Simon Nugent, chief executive of the Private Hospitals Association, representing private hospitals, said the outsourcing has still not started.
"It should be noted that treatment for NTPF-funded patients in private hospitals has not yet commenced while the NTPF goes through a procurement process," he said.
"We will begin work as soon as the contracts are signed and expect that private hospitals will be able to begin treating patients before Easter.
"Hopefully, we will soon have a smooth process in place which will be predictable and efficient so that we can start to make a real impact reducing waiting times for thousands."