ALMOST one-in-three public patients is not turning up for specialist appointments in some hospital outpatient clinics -- despite huge waiting lists, the Irish Independent has learned.
They are among a worrying number of 'no shows' at clinics run by specialists to diagnose and monitor patients, many of whom have serious illnesses.
Although no accurate figures yet exist for the numbers of people waiting to see specialists, the Comptroller and Auditor General estimated it to be as high as 175,000.
However, information supplied by hospitals to the HSE reveals one-in-seven patients nationally is not keeping appointments across various clinics.
The hospitals' own reports in December show some with the longest lists also have the worst record of non-attendance.
They include Tallaght Hospital in Dublin where 30pc are not keeping appointments at its ophthalmology clinic to see eye specialists. The non-attendance rate in the ear, nose and throat clinic is 28pc.
The hospital did not respond to queries to explain why the record of attendance is so poor and what actions it is taking to address it.
Limerick Regional Hospital's own figures also reveal non-attendance rates of nearly one in four in its ear, nose and throat clinics and one in five in its ophthalmology clinics.
Other hospitals with high numbers of no shows include Galway University Hospital (21pc); the Mater Hospital Dublin (25pc); Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda (23pc) and Sligo General Hospital (23pc).
A study carried out by dermatologists in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin found 40pc of patients who did not attend said they forgot the date and 12pc claimed they never received an appointment.
Other research shows patients may have been "double booked" by their GP and were already treated in another hospital, while others went private or died.
Failure to turn up not only deprives other patients of slots but also has financial costs and wastes hospital staffs' time.
Depending on the patient's condition, they may find their new appointment is several months away.
Health Minister James Reilly last night admitted he was surprised the reported figures were so high.
He told the Irish Independent: "All of this will be dealt with by the special delivery unit I am setting up."