Waiting lists at hospitals soar tenfold in a year
THE number of patients waiting more than nine months for admission to hospital for surgery has risen tenfold in the past year.
There are now 4,473 adults and children on public waiting lists for nine months or more. This compares to just 433 in September last year, new figures show.
Although some headway was made over the summer in reducing the queues for in-patient and day-case care, the disappointing trend shows that the target of having nobody waiting over nine months is moving further from grasp.
In total, there were 49,496 people on hospital waiting lists at the end of September, compared to 41,732 a year ago – underlining the huge pressure facing hospitals, which are seriously in the red.
The logjam comes as the HSE, which has to find €666m in cuts, prepares its service plan, setting out where the spending axe will fall in 2014.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly has already blamed the "extraordinary winter" and the extended flu season in the first half of the year for slowing the momentum in reducing waiting lists.
Although the post-summer weather has been mild for longer than normal, the first blast of winter will put more pressure on hospital emergency departments.
Major hospitals which had nobody on a waiting list for more than 12 months last year are now losing the battle – including Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, where the numbers have gone from zero to 250.
St James's Hospital had also cleared its list of patients waiting over 12 months this time last year, but 105 are now enduring these delays there.
The Mater had 25 patients waiting for longer than a year in 2012, but this has risen to 79.
Meanwhile, another 386,384 people were waiting for specialist appointments in public clinics in September – up from 374,105 the previous month.
Of these, almost 2,000 have been in the queue for more than four years, while 5,881 are on the list for more than three years.
When Dr Reilly took up office, he set up a Special Delivery Unit in the department to bring down waiting times.
He hired Dr Martin Connor as a senior policy adviser to the unit. Dr Connor was paid €250,000 for a six-month contract to November 2011. He was later given a three-year contract worth €400,000.
However, he left after this summer. The unit has now been transferred to the HSE.
Fianna Fail's spokesperson on Health Billy Kelleher said: "There has been a 50pc increase in the number of children on hospital waiting lists between September 2012 and September 2013. Overall patient waiting times have soared by 18.6pc in the year.
"This week alone, there were more than 1,000 patients waiting on trollies in hospitals around the country. The health services are at a tipping point, Minister Reilly is out of control and the Government is just ignoring the problem."
Why hospital waiting lists are under pressure
* Long spell of bad weather earlier this year.
* More patients attending A&E needing admission.
* Growing number of older patients needing admission.
* Hospital cutbacks in theatre time.
* Hospital cuts in staff.
* More patients dropping health insurance.