THE number of patients waiting more than nine months for admission to hospital has trebled – despite deadlines set by Health Minister James Reilly.
Newly released figures show there were 2,265 facing delays of over nine months for surgery and other procedures at the end of November – compared to 817 facing the same delay a year earlier.
Of these, 797 had been on a list for over a year, despite the minister setting a target for nobody to be waiting longer than eight months by the end of 2013.
Figures for December have yet to be compiled but it is looking increasingly unlikely that the deadline will be met after a year when waiting lists for public patients came under new pressure.
The overall number on waiting lists had fallen by the end of November – down to 47,654 compared to 49,325 in October, the figures revealed.
The latest waiting list trends come as doctors' unions warned of an "emerging crisis" because of the failure to fill permanent and pensionable jobs for consultants in a growing number of hospitals.
They include two jobs for anaesthetists in Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda as well as posts in hospitals in the west and north-west. Other hospitals that have difficulty recruiting include St James's, Tallaght, the Mater, Beaumont and the Coombe, all in Dublin.
Cuts to the start-up salary for consultants as well as working conditions and onerous rosters have been blamed for making the jobs unattractive, with implications for services to patients.
The minister is now reviewing salaries for consultants who may want to return here and have considerable experience of working in their specialty abroad.
Prof Trevor Duffy, chairman of the consultant committee of the Irish Medical Organisation, said that "the system is breaking down and consultants are voting with their feet".
"They are leaving the country in unprecedented numbers and they are declining the opportunity to even apply for jobs around the country." He called on the minister to take immediate steps to tackle this crisis.
Dr John Donnellan, who represents junior doctors, said the Government was asking them to work in chaotic circumstances without competitive packages and they were simply refusing to do so.
"If the Government was trying to establish at what point consultants would say enough is enough, they have found it and they have gone past it."