Hospital waiting lists soar to a new record of 658,677
Hospital waiting lists have hit a new record, with 658,677 patients now in some form of queue for care - a jump of nearly 15,000 in a month.
The underlying trends are also increasingly worrying. There is particular concern at the rise in the numbers of patients who are waiting more than 18 months for surgery or an outpatient appointment.
These include children as well as young people with deteriorating scoliosis who need spinal surgery.
There were 1,182 children waiting over a year for surgery across the three Dublin hospitals last month - 50 more than in February.
Figures for March released yesterday show the people needing a hip operation or cataract removal, many of whom are elderly and immobile, face particular delays.
Overall, there are 569,887 on the traditional lists for all forms of surgery, a specialist appointment or endoscopy procedure, up from 556,008 in February.
In recent months, previously undocumented lists of patients have been added to the figures. They may have been given an appointment or been treated and need additional care.
There were 87,038 on this previously 'hidden' list in February - but they rose to 88,440 in March, the National Treatment Purchase Fund figures revealed.
The upward spiral comes amid controversy over draft proposals from the Dáil Committee on the Future of Healthcare to abolish tax relief for private health insurance.
The rejection of this aspect of the plan by the Government has already led to fears the report of the committee will end up gathering dust.
The hope is that it will still provide the blueprint for an end to the two-tier health system, and huge waiting lists for public patients, over the next decade.
Hospital consultants yesterday warned of growing concern the report "will not deal with the overwhelming shortage of hospital beds, operating theatres and intensive care beds, which are creating unacceptable delays for patients in hospitals across Ireland."
Dr Tom Ryan, President of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association said: "Any realistic strategy must significantly increase the number of acute hospital and intensive care beds, increase operating theatre capacity, as well as increasing the number of consultants."
Meanwhile, the hiring of two more nurses at Our Lady's Hospital Crumlin will allow an additional day's spinal surgery to be carried out on children with scoliosis from the beginning of next week.
Around 2,000 public patients who are waiting longest for certain procedures, including cataract removal, are to have their treatment paid for privately by the HSE in the coming months.
However, there are thousands of patients constantly joining waiting lists, as the pressures of the ageing population increase demand.
The ongoing overcrowding in the emergency departments of several hospitals also means that surgery is having to be cancelled.