Critical Condition

Claire Murphy, Alan O'Keeffe and Niall O'Connor

SOARING waiting lists and chronic budget overruns exposed the scandalous state of our health system today.

Health Minister James Reilly's plans for reform appeared in tatters as it emerged waiting lists are twice as bad as previously thought.

News that more than 340,000 people are waiting for an outpatient appointment came as a shock in the Department of Health, the Herald can reveal.

"Nobody expected it to be this bad. In the build up to the no confidence motion, the minister was using the defence that waiting lists were improving and the trolley problem was being dealt with," said a source.

Reilly must now address a series of issues to save the health service from meltdown:

•€130m cuts over the next three months;

•16,600 patients waiting four years for outpatient appointments;

•A high mortality rate for patients after surgery;

•30,000 procedures cancelled in hospitals since 2010.

The crisis is unfolding against the backdrop of bickering ministers and controversy over Minister Reilly's personal finances. He was recently listed in Stubbs Gazette.

Today. he admitted that having 16,600 people waiting four years for a clinic appointment was a "disgrace".

The numbers waiting for first-time out-patient appointments have doubled since last April to 340,000, according to a new report from the HSE.

And there is no sign of a remedy as there are €130m in cuts on the way over the next three months.

The Herald can reveal separately that a staggering 30,000 procedures have been cancelled in Irish hospitals since 2010 as health care workers struggle to manage the chaos.

In additional research released, it was identified that patients in Irish hospitals are more likely to die after surgery than in 22 other EU countries.

Dr Reilly said that the figures were truly shocking, but outlined the priority to treat the longest waiters first and ensure those who were most ill get speedy treatment.

Over 113,000 patients have been waiting a year or more to be seen, the HSE report outlines.

Dublin's Beaumont Hospital is facing the biggest overspend after it exceeded its budget by €17m -- and that's before the new cuts come into effect.

Dr Reilly was facing a storm of criticism for failing to get on top of the problem, 18 months into his position.

Minister of State for Primary Care Roisin Shorthall has made no secret of her opposition to Reilly.

Dublin TD Christy Burke said that he is regularly told by his constituents that they scramble together money to pay privately.

"It happens all the time, I'd say I'd get at least four or five people a month coming to tell me that they have given up hope on the waiting lists," he said. "They then reach the point where they collect the money from their family.

"It also seems to be the case that if you know someone, you will be seen sooner."

And the Herald can unveil even more holes in the system.

A shocking 30,248 individual inpatient and day case procedures have been cancelled over a 30- month period, figures obtained under The Freedom of Information Act reveal.

And the Herald has learned that the overall figure of cancellations is much higher -- after the HSE admitted that not all hospitals collate the relevant data.

One hospital, St James's in Dublin, has called off 9,105 procedures since the start of 2010.

Meanwhile, Beaumont Hospital in the capital cancelled almost 4,000 procedures with some 696 of these cancellations taking place since January of this year.

And Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin called off a total of 4,655 individual procedures.