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Hospital waiting lists top 900,000 for the first time as consultants warn of worsening crisis

Figures released today show 908,519 people in Ireland are on a waiting list for care.

Image: Shutterstock/venusvi

MORE THAN 900,000 people are waiting for an appointment to be treated or assessed in public hospitals, according to figures released today. 

As of the end of July, 908,519 people in Ireland are on a waiting list for care, according to the latest figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

The number of people waiting to be seen has reached a record high. 

A record 652,498 patients were awaiting an outpatient appointment with a consultant, up 51,136 on the same time last year.

More than 268,500 of these are waiting longer than a year to be assessed by a consultant, up 15% since July 2020 and a seven-fold increase over the past seven years.

A further 20,513 patients are waiting over a year for hospital inpatient care, an increase of 24% in the past year and a massive 88-fold increase since 2012, when the then Minister for Health imposed pay discrimination on hospital consultants appointed after that date.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has expressed its concern at the new record number, calling it “the strongest indicator yet” that the backlog of care is dangerously close to overwhelming public hospitals.

The Association had warned in recent days that the waiting lists were due to reach record levels and were likely to worsen in the coming months as more people who have put off seeking care because of concerns about Covid are now presenting for care.

It now fears the waiting lists are “inexorably climbing” to the one million mark.

IHCA Vice President Professor Rob Landers said: “Every single one of these represents a person and a family seeking healthcare, often while experiencing pain, suffering and the psychological distress at not knowing when they will be able to receive treatment.”

As Hospital Consultants, we want to help alleviate this distress and provide the care they need. But in order to do this effectively, the consultant recruitment and retention crisis must be addressed effectively to fill the one in five permanent consultant posts that are currently vacant or filled on a temporary basis.

“Today’s statistics are a reminder that despite the success of the vaccine roll-out, the hard work and dedication of front-line doctors and their colleagues, together with the resilience of the public, our public hospitals now face a challenge of almost equal magnitude to Covid,” he added. 

The Association has said the low number of consultants due to the difficulty in filling permanent consultant posts is the root cause of the waiting lists. 

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It also said that the figure does not give the full picture as it does not include those waiting for hospital diagnostics such as MRI scans or radiology.

More than 200,000 people are also waiting for diagnostic scans such as MRIs, CTs and ultrasounds, with nearly 50,500 of these waiting over a year.

It added that there had been “persistent underinvestment” in hospital infrastructure, bed capacity and Consultant recruitment over the past decade and has called on the government to do more.  

“We need multi-annual budgeting from the Department of Health to bring together a plan to sort this problem out once and for all,” Landers said.

About the author:

Jane Moore

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