Health service in fresh crisis as record 500,000 on waiting list to see a consultant
The crisis in the health service has escalated with new figures showing the number of public patients languishing on waiting lists to see a specialist has breached 500,000 for the first time.
Some 138,584 of these patients spent the whole of 2017 on the waiting list.
Half of these patients have been waiting for an outpatient appointment since the middle of 2016. The figures for December are yet more grim news as patients in overcrowded hospital A&E departments, which are in the grip of the winter trolley crisis, face into more weeks of congestion and long delays for a bed.
The number of patients needing surgery also rose last month to 81,468 - up from 80,595 the previous month.
It reverses the recent trend that made a small dent in the queues after the injection of special waiting-list funding and the purchase of private treatments.
Overall, nearly 690,000 public patients are on some form of waiting list, a rise of 4,800 since November.
Fianna Fáil health spokesperson Billy Kelleher described the toll of patients waiting as "appalling".
He accused Health Minister Simon Harris of taking his "eye off the ball as he attempts to grapple with the trolley crisis".
This month's figures are set to be even worse for patients in need of surgery as most planned operations have had to be put on hold to free up beds for patients from A&E.
The figures for patients waiting for an endoscopy in December show a slight fall to 17,618 compared to 18,184 in November.
But there are still more waiting for this invasive diagnostic procedure now than in January last, when the list stood at 17,441, the National Treatment Purchase Fund revealed.
The Health Minister will again struggle to reduce the delays endured by many of these patients who are in pain and in deteriorating health this year despite having more than €50m in funding to buy additional treatments.
The numbers on trolleys across the country fell yesterday to 473 but there were 48 patients waiting for a bed in University Hospital Limerick, 34 in Cork University Hospital and 27 in Tallaght Hospital.
Doctors warned it is inevitable that A&Es will be clogged again next week as the plummeting temperatures, flu and others respiratory illnesses force many patients, including the frail elderly, to have no option but to seek hospital care.
Many of the patients who are having to resort to A&E are also on hospital waiting lists. Their health is declining and continuing to worsen.