Surge in numbers waiting more than a year for surgery
Almost 10,000 people are now waiting more than a year for surgery - a jump of more than 3,000 since January, new figures show.
Overall 67,175 are now on public hospital waiting lists for surgery as the Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed hospitals are advertising as far away as India to fill nursing jobs.
The waiting list figures show 9,433 are enduring delays of more than a year, up from 3.130 in January and months of bed shortages due to emergency department overcrowding.
The revival of overseas recruitment of nurses - highlighted at the annual meeting of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation's (INMO) yesterday - comes against ongoing concern over delays in hospital emergency departments.
INMO Secretary General Liam Doran said he knew of one patient who recently spent five days on a trolley waiting for a bed.
The state of the country's hospital system is set to be in the spotlight again later this week when the long-awaited report of the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) into standards of care in Portlaoise Hospital is expected to be published.
It is expected to highlight the impact of under-funding and lack of staff which are mirrored in other hospitals.
Speaking at the INMO conference HIQA chief Phelim Quinn, who confirmed the publication shortly, said his inspectors had identified risks to patient safety in a review of Limerick hospital which had implications for other units.
If recommendations which HIQA had made previously were implemented, risks in emergency departments would be significantly reduced, he added.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said in the last year it has been recruiting for specialist nurses from Europe, the Philippines and India. Many voluntary hospitals have been recruiting from India for longer periods.
She said a total of 1,986 nurses were interviewed in the past two-and-a-half months and 906 of these have started or are currently being appointed.
"In addition, to supplement our nursing workforce the HSE is in the final stages of developing a high profile recruitment drive focused on the UK market to attract Irish trained nurses home.
"The HSE is also developing initiatives to retain the 2015 nursing graduates."
She said 251 posts are currently the subject of recruitment campaigns - 121 in acute hospitals and 130 in mental health.
She said that 136 posts are at "offer stage" of which 37 are in acute hospitals and 56 in mental health. Some 364 posts have been accepted pending clearance, with 275 posts filled since January 1.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar insisted it was "encouraging" that "hospitals are starting to catch up on surgery and procedures delayed due to overcrowding in January".
He said the measures announced in early April to address the delays in people needing a nursing home place under the Fair Deal scheme will have a positive impact and has brought the waiting time from the date of approval down to four weeks.
However, he added more people are getting appointments for outpatient clinics but by February they had not impacted on waiting times "which is a cause of concern".