Waiting list to see hospital specialist doubles in month
THE number of public patients waiting more than a year to see a specialist almost doubled within the space of a month, new figures reveal.
There were 4,937 on the longest outpatient waiting list across the country in December but this jumped to 9,602 at the end of January.
The numbers waiting for over two years for an outpatient appointment went up from 947 in December to 1,270 over the same time, as hospitals struggled to find space for patients from A&E.
Yet the end-of-year figures for waiting lists dramatically improved after the HSE's decision to outsource more than 30,000 appointments for patients on public waiting lists, paying for them to be seen in private facilities or in extra clinics in public hospitals.
Some of the patients were sent to the Blackrock Clinic and the Mater Private in Dublin. They were also outsourced to the Galway Clinic and the Hermitage Clinic.
It outsourced 23,037 outpatient appointments and 6,655 in-patient treatments last year to bring down waiting times.
But the latest figures for public patients on waiting lists needing admission to hospital for in-patient or day case procedures also proved disappointing.
There were just four adult patients facing a delay of nine months for in-patient or day case hospital treatment at the end of December but by the end of January the numbers waiting over eight months had risen to 1,764, the HSE report revealed.
Children's waiting lists have fared particularly badly. At the end of January, 1,464 youngsters had been in the queue for a year or more to see a specialist,l up from 1,282 in December.
Hospitals with the highest number of patients needing in-patient or day case treatment include Galway and Beaumont in Dublin, both of which suffered severe emergency department overcrowding during the bad weather at the beginning of the year.
A spokeswoman for Beaumont Hospital said yesterday that at the end of 2013 it had "met the targets" for elective in-patients and day cases.
"The hospital has an action plan in place to meet the national targets for treatment of elective in-patients and day cases by June, as mandated by the national programme."
The HSE also blamed the influx of patients to emergency departments saying: "Nationally there has been a 3pc increase in emergency attendances and 3pc increase in admissions.
"At times hospitals need to reduce day services in order to accommodate the increasing demands through the emergency department which leads to a reduction in elective activity."
Fianna Fail spokesman on health deputy Billy Kelleher said: "We cannot continue to stand over a situation where thousands of people are forced to wait over a year just to see a consultant."
Catherine Whelan of the Independent Hospitals Association of Ireland, representing private hospitals, said they have spare capacity which can be utilised to ease delays for public patients.