PATIENTS are waiting for "excessive and unsafe" periods of time to see a hospital consultant, a damning report from the health watchdog has found.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) revealed patients are waiting up to five years to access some hospital services.
And according to HIQA current waiting lists are inaccurate and out of date.
However, it could not provide examples of which hospitals had the longest waiting lists nor provide data as to exactly how many patients were waiting to see consultants.
It warned that the system of how patients are being referred to consultants is "poor" and is leading to serious safety concerns and long waiting times.
The watchdog has now drawn up a series of recommendations to standardise the referral system.
But the plan is based on anecdotal evidence of patient waiting times as requesting accurate data from the HSE was considered "an unnecessary bureaucratic burden" by the health service watchdog.
HIQA director Professor Jane Grimson said: "We were going to request this data, but it became clear very early on during the consultation process that the hospitals simply did not have it available. As an authority we have an obligation not to be imposing an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on healthcare providers."
According to HIQA, the HSE does issue information on a monthly basis on out-patient waiting times through its HealthStat facility -- but this data is not standardised, is often out of date and inaccurate and therefore unreliable.
The HIQA review also said patients should not wait more than 90 days to be seen for an outpatient referral, yet only a very small number of hospitals achieve this target.
Data for November 2010 found that just six of 22 hospitals that supplied information met the target.
The report makes 26 recommendations advocating a clear patient referral system for outpatient services and for patient referrals to be individually tracked.
Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients' Association, said it is imperative that the HSE provide up-to-date figures on how many are currently languishing on consultant waiting lists.
"This report verifies what the dogs on the street have been saying to the HSE for years," he said.