Record high 516,162 now waiting to see specialist
The number of public patients waiting to see a specialist at the end of last year rose to a record 516,162.
They are in the queue to be seen in public outpatient clinics - for years in some cases.
More than 150,000 of this number are on the waiting list for more than a year - and they are facing into 2019 having still not seen a specialist.
Separately to the more than 516,00 waiting to see a specialist, another 70,204 patients were waiting for an appointment for surgery at the end of last month - a fall of 785 from the previous month of November. On a third list for gastrointestinal endoscopy, another 18,847 patients were waiting to receive an appointment - an increase of 545 over the previous month.
The figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) show 22,000 public patients waiting for surgery had accepted an offer to have their care paid for privately.
Commenting on the figures, Health Minister Simon Harris said while acknowledging there is significant work to be done, he welcomed the improvements achieved in 2018.
"Improving access for patients is a key priority and today's publication highlights the continued progress that is being made by the HSE and the NTPF.
"As a result of this increased activity and the ongoing collaboration between the HSE and NTPF, the number of patients waiting for an Inpatient or day case procedure has fallen to 70,204, from a peak of 86,100 in July 2017. This represents a reduction of over 18pc.
"Last year saw considerable improvements to the number of patients waiting over nine months which has almost halved since July 2017 from 28,100 to 14,900."
However, Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Stephen Donnelly said: "These figures reveal that 152,940 people spent all of 2018 on an outpatient waiting list - this is a damning indictment of the current state of our health service.
"In fact, almost 90,000 people have been waiting over 18 months for a consultation.
"Such long waiting times are simply unacceptable and urgently need to be addressed. The number of people waiting over a year for an appointment is now greater than the entire population of Wicklow.
"Minister Harris claims that the outpatient waiting list 2018 performance has seen 'some stability' with a year-on-year increase of 3pc. This is a very complacent response.
"The minister promised an outpatient action plan during 2018 but it never materialised and overall outpatient waiting lists are up around 25pc under his tenure."
He welcomed the fall in surgery lists which was helped by the NTPF buying treatments for public patients - a move supported by Fianna Fáil.