Number of patients waiting 18 months for specialist soars more than tenfold
Increase of 1,110pc since Fine Gael came to power
The number of public patients waiting more than 18 months to see a specialist has soared more than tenfold under the Fine Gael Government.
It has rocketed by 1,110pc - up from 8,570 in 2016 to 103,973, new figures reveal.
The logjam in public outpatient clinics is worsening, despite an injection of €6m this year to send around 40,000 of the patients for private appointments.
A record 551,965 are now in the queue to see a specialist - but the most gruelling delays are endured by those waiting at least 18 months, and years in some cases. It means there is a greater risk of delayed diagnosis while patients also suffer the worry and anxiety of being trapped in the backlog.
The clinics are struggling to cope with the rise in patient referrals and a shortage of some key specialists.
University Hospital Waterford has 11,009 patients waiting more than 18 months, the highest number queueing for this length of time in any hospital. Other hospitals with high numbers are the Mater Hospital (9,836), St James's Hospital (8,375) and University Hospital Limerick (7,759).
The HSE plan for outpatient clinics this year promised to increase the number of new patients seen from 953,000 to 1.012 million, but more than 510,000 will still be waiting at the end of this year.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson on health Stephen Donnelly said that the latest waiting list figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund are "truly staggering".
"The figures for April are truly staggering and represent yet another record high for waiting times. 169,579 of those waiting have been doing so since April of last year. Timely access for patients seems further away than ever," he said.
"When you consider that some of these people may then have to endure further lengthy waiting times for diagnostic treatment or surgery, that makes matters even worse."
Of the 103,973 patients waiting more than 18 months, 12,138 are children, up hugely from 271 in 2016.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said more than 800,000 new patients will be referred to outpatient clinics in 2019, a figure that is based on trends for the previous two years.
A spokeswoman for Children's Health Ireland, covering the three main children's hospitals in Dublin, said it sincerely regrets that children and their families are experiencing long waiting times.
"While the majority of children and young people are seen within a 12-month period, we recognise that too many are waiting too long for their appointments and we are making every effort to reducing these waiting times."
She said there has been a major investment in additional consultant posts to reduce waiting times in many specialties, including orthopaedics and cardiology.
"The investment in paediatric orthopaedics - which include scoliosis services - is welcomed and has already improved access for surgery and outpatient review to address the lengthy waiting times experienced by children and young people with scoliosis. In addition, as part of the national model of care for children, an additional 12 consultant posts are being recruited in three specialities, general paediatrics, emergency medicine and radiology," she said.
"We have also obtained approval through the HSE service planning process to build capacity in specialties with resource challenges and are in the process of recruiting these new positions."
It is also working with the National Treatment Purchase Fund to purchase more appointments with a particular focus on long waiters, she added.