Half-a-million stuck on waiting lists as health crisis grows
Nearly 536,000 are now in nationwide queue for healthcare
The full extent of the misery suffered by hospital patients has emerged as new figures reveal a near-record 535,974 people are now on public waiting lists.
They are in the queue nationwide for surgery, an out patient appointment or an endoscopy procedure.
The bleak toll came as the trolley crisis continued to rage with 466 patients, many of them very elderly, languishing in emergency departments yesterday morning waiting for a bed on a ward.
So far this month, hundreds of patients on waiting lists, who have been in the queue for over a year, have been given the devastating news that their operation is being cancelled due to overcrowding.
The 2016 end-of-year waiting list figures are among the grimmest since records began, although they have fallen slightly for the first time in two years.
There are still 437,558 people now needing an outpatient appointment to see a specialist.
Of these 31,485 have been waiting at least 18 months.
Another 81,015 are in line for surgery, 1,738 of whom have been on the list for 18 months.
Another 17,401 are waiting for an endoscopy diagnostic procedure.
Health Minister Simon Harris claimed the fall in the numbers of patients waiting 18 months or more for inpatient or day case procedures was "real progress".
He has now asked the HSE to submit a detailed plan for waiting lists in 2017, using the €15m which is now left from the €20m allocation to outsource patients granted in the Budget.
However, a survey by the Irish Independent yesterday showed some of the hospitals worst-hit by overcrowding are cancelling operations already this year.
In University Hospital Galway there were 10 surgeries for adults cancelled last week.
In addition, some operations which were due to be carried out on children had to be postponed because of the high volumes of paediatric patients with respiratory illness.
A spokeswoman for the Saolta hospital group, which includes University Hospital Galway, said that as part of pre-planning before Christmas, numbers of elective admissions were significantly less in view of the expected increase in emergencies.
"We would expect similar number of cancellations this week as emergency admissions remain at high levels," she said.
She said that in Sligo University Hospital, as part of the winter plan and having forecast an increase in emergency attendances last week, no routine waiting list patient surgery had been scheduled last week. "However, urgent cases and paediatric cases did go ahead, with the exception of one case."
Cork University Hospital had to cancel 30 operations last year and three patients had their operations put back at the Mercy Hospital.
A spokeswoman for Tallaght Hospital said it reduced the level of scheduled activity in anticipation of increased demand on services.
"Tallaght Hospital regrets that in the past week, 22 day-case procedures and surgeries were postponed. A further 18 procedures, which were due to take place between today and Wednesday, have also been deferred."
Meanwhile, the onset of bitterly cold weather, and the possibility of snow, threatens to leave many vulnerable older people in particular at higher risk of respiratory distress or an accident.
Dr Kevin Kelleher said the flu would hit its peak in the next two or three weeks and then it would decline.
"If it gets very cold we move inside a lot and that means we stay inside. So, you're more in company with other people as a consequence and more likely to pass on these things.
"Actually being outside, really outside, lessens the opportunity to pass on these things. Being in a room, in an enclosed space, increases the chance of passing on these problems."
Doctors said the strain of flu circulating was particularly impacting on elderly patients who were at risk of pneumonia.
Some elderly patients have had to spend several days in hospital.