Trolley crisis has forced more operation cancellations
A total of 632,185 public patients are on some form of waiting list for hospital care. New figures revealed yesterday show the extent of the huge numbers of people waiting for surgery, specialist appointments, diagnostics or follow-up care.
The figure includes some 545,147 on the "official" waiting list, as well as another previously undocumented 87,038 patients who have been given an appointment or who are in need of follow-up care. The two sets of figures were released by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) after it was faced with criticism about a lack of transparency.
It followed the harrowing 'RTÉ Investigates - Living on the List' exposé of the level of distress and pain suffered by those patients who are on waiting lists.
The underlying momentum is a severe setback for Health Minister Simon Harris (inset) who has promised that nobody will be waiting more than 15 months by October.
However, the effects of the January trolley crisis - which forced hospitals to prioritise emergency patients over those on waiting lists needing admission to a bed for surgery - has taken a heavy toll.
The numbers in the queue for surgery have risen to 82,005 - an increase of nearly 1,000 in a month.
The numbers waiting for more than 18 months have also worsened - increasing from 1,738 to 2,937.
This is despite the minister's promise that he would try to reduce the number of those waiting longest.
There are also more people on the outpatient waiting list to see a specialist - up from 437,558 last December to 445,701.
"My priority is making sure patients that don't have dates for surgeries get those dates quicker than they would in 2016 - before 15 months by the end of October," the minister said yesterday, despite the grim trend.
"What we will see happen this year is Irish patients will wait for a shorter period of time [by the end of the year] compared to the start of the year."
A breakdown of the 26,108 patients who have been given an appointment shows 488 of them had been languishing on the surgical list for more than 18 months, including 64 children.
It is still not clear now many of these have been treated.
A separate list of patients who have already been treated but need follow-up care shows that 8,743 were given another hospital appointment but it has had to be delayed again.
Up to €15m will be spent on buying private care for many of these patients in private hospitals this year.
But it is still unclear how many of those in the most acute distress and pain will benefit or whether it will go on high-volume cheaper treatments.
"I feel we lost a decade in terms of the development of public services," Mr Harris said.
"We're now opening new theatres and hiring 1,000 new nurses this year.
"We're now back in the situation to do these things."