Over 3,000 patients must wait months for cancer diagnosis
More than 3,000 people are waiting over three months for a colonoscopy, sparking fears of a delay in fatal bowel cancer diagnosis.
The Irish Cancer Society expressed concern over the waiting list figure at the end of November for the invasive test.
"This is an increase of 954 people since November 2014, following a rise to a peak of 4,235 in October," said head of advocacy, Kathleen O'Meara.
"Private patients can get the test done within 12 days. Colonoscopy waiting times are unacceptable and highlight the health gap between those who can pay and those who cannot."
She pointed out the HSE's target is that nobody should wait for more than 13 weeks for a colonoscopy.
"Some of the 3,510 patients waiting more than this time will have a cancer that may have advanced because diagnosis was delayed," said Ms O'Meara.
"The HSE is a long way off meeting its target of performing 100pc of colonoscopies within 13 weeks. Currently, 41pc of patients are waiting longer than three months for the cancer test. The tragic reality is that we can expect some bowel cancers to be diagnosed when the patients on waiting lists eventually receive their colonoscopy.
"At one hospital, over 80pc have been waiting for longer than three months, and at a further three hospitals, this figure exceeds 60pc."
In response, a spokesman for the HSE said increased demand for endoscopy services is the main factor causing the rise in waiting list numbers.
"Increased awareness of general health and wellbeing means that people are now more willing to contact services and to contact them earlier to ensure they are "fit and well".
He said: "People are also undertaking more regular general check-ups and such general check-ups can lead to referral for different screening services.
Increased awareness of the signs of bowel and other types of health problems mean that people can identify common bowel symptoms that flag the need for a check-up.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund has started to offer private appointments to those waiting over 12 months now or before the end of December 2015 for a routine endoscope.
Of the 2,652 long waiters targeted, 2,094 have now been seen (79pc).
The remaining 558 are being actively pursued for clearance in the remaining four weeks of 2015.
Meanwhile, a new system of health accounts compiled by the Central Statistics Office shows that total health spending since 2007 has been above the OECD average.
Of the total 71pc was provided by the Government, 15pc out of people's pockets and 14pc through private health insurance premiums.