627,856 are waiting to see a Public Health Service specialist – the highest number this year

The number of people on public outpatient waiting lists reached its highest level this year with 627,856 people facing delays in seeing a specialist.

It means 2,343 more patients have been added to the queue since January despite the government’s €350million waiting list plan.

Progress has been made in reducing the number of people facing the longest wait of over 18 months on the outpatient list.

The numbers rose from 155,478 at the start of the year to 127,546 last month.

The number of patients requiring surgery fluctuated over the year, but has now fallen to 79,588 from 77,818 in January.

However, some breakthroughs have been made in those who wait the longest. That figure rose from 10,914 in January to 9,331 last month.

The impact of Covid-19, the influx of emergency patients, the lack of consultants and beds are also preventing major progress despite the level of investment.

It comes as hospitals face another winter of Covid-19 and a possible flu outbreak which could seriously lengthen waiting lists.

The figures also show how far behind the HSE is in its plans for additional acute hospital beds which are crucial to accommodate patients on trolleys in overcrowded emergency departments and provide space for people on death lists expectation that must be admitted.

By this month, 941 additional acute hospital beds should have been delivered, but 45 hospitals are still short.

Hospitals still awaiting all of the additional hospital beds planned for last year are Beaumont Hospital, Temple St Hospital, Letterkenny Hospital, Mater Hospital, South Tipperary General Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital, Kilkenny and Mercy’s Hospital in Cork.

Dr Fergal Hickey, from the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, said emergency services are “working harder and harder to address gaps elsewhere in the healthcare system, which is not their role “.

“While emergency medicine accepts that emergency departments are the safety net for patients, they should not be the safety net for failing medical services,” he said.

“Emergency services are trying to cope with this onslaught in the face of significant shortages of medical, nursing and other staff.

“Although some of this is Covid-related, more and more employees are leaving because they feel they cannot continue to work in such an impossible and dangerous environment.”

Dr Hickey said flow, in both hospitals and emergency departments, becomes impossible when hospital or emergency department bed occupancy levels exceed 85%.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said he wants the appointment of 50 emergency consultants to be fast-tracked, but there is skepticism over where they will be found, and doctors are warning that without changes to the current hospital system, their impact will be limited.

In particular, there needs to be more round-the-clock access to diagnostics to avoid patients occupying beds unnecessarily and also more efficient discharge of patients into the community.

There were 463 patients on trolleys waiting for a bed yesterday morning, including 43 at St Vincent’s Hospital and 51 at Cork University Hospital.

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