Patients languishing on hospital waiting lists hits all-time high of 535,000
The number of patients enduring the misery of languishing on a hospital waiting list is now at all-time high - and 26,000 higher than when Health Minister Simon Harris was appointed five months ago.
New figures show nearly 535,000 people were waiting for surgery, an outpatient appointment or diagnostic procedure at the end of September.
It comes as hospitals are braced for another winter of trolley gridlock in emergency departments, forcing the cancellation of yet more surgery for many of these waiting list patients.
Despite repeated statements by the minister that he is working to reduce waiting lists, the queues of many increasingly critical patients facing delays have grown at a worrying level every month since his appointment.
Dr John Duddy, a trainee neurosurgeon, who is president of the Irish Medical Organisation, warned the crisis is so bad in some hospitals that budget cuts are causing rolling theatre closures - forcing patients with even life-threatening conditions such as cancer to have their surgery delayed.
The staggering figures for September show 78,696 are in the queue for surgery, with nearly 9,000 of these waiting for longer than the maximum target of 15 months.
Another 438,267 are on outpatient waiting lists to see a specialist - a jump of 3,000 compared to August.
There is major concern at the major surge in the numbers of these patients on outpatient queues who are suffering the longest delays.
Some 47,000 have been waiting to see a specialist for more than 15 months.
The only area where there was a slight fall was in the numbers waiting for an endoscopy, an invasive diagnostic procedure.
But there are still 18,000 waiting for these tests, which risks delayed diagnosis for serious conditions.
The failure of hospitals to make inroads into waiting lists over the summer - traditionally quieter months when more beds are free - is particularly worrying .
In previous years, hospitals were able to tackle some of the backlog which built up over the winter but they now appear to be struggling all year round.
The minister has promised €50m to reduce waiting lists in next week's Budget, with a portion of this going towards the outsourcing of work to private hospitals.
A lack of staff, including nurses and doctors, will continue to slow down this work in public hospitals.
Figures obtained by Independent TD Tommy Broughan showed the HSE is now spending €28m a month, nearly €200m up to the end of July on agency staff.
This is due to the failure to recruit enough permanent staff to keep theatres running and cover areas like intensive care units and regular wards.