Hospital Consultants have warned that non-Covid waiting lists have skyrocketed, with a 100% increase in inpatient waiting lists in some hospitals. 

They also cautioned that the waiting list may be an “underestimation of the true unmet demand for treatment as they do not yet include all those who have had their care disrupted or have postponed seeking care and referrals to hospitals for appointments during the pandemic.”

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association said that there were “shocking” increases in the number of patients waiting for hospital treatment – and 881,621 people were waiting for outpatient appointments, an increase of 42,946 in 2021 alone.

The IHCA warned the acue hospital figures were “at tipping point” and said that as Covid restrictions and the vaccine rollout strove to reduce the daily case numbers for the virus, “non-Covid care waiting lists skyrocket”.

Consultants also said that it was urgent that Minister Donnelly ensured additional consultant staffing and extra capacity is put in place in hospitals if the ever-increasing waiting lists are to be reduced.

They said they were calling on “Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD to uphold his commitment to address the root cause of 728 vacant consultant posts and subsequent record waiting lists

IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine said  “Last October, the IHCA welcomed the ‘unambiguous commitment’ by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD to address the root causes of Ireland’s chronic consultant recruitment and retention crisis, including the restoration of full pay parity. Failure to uphold that commitment and to engage in meaningful discussions with hospital consultants have contributed to an addition of 38,258 people to hospital waiting lists in the period since. While the Minister has worked to reduce Covid sickness and death since October, he and his officials must look to address the unacceptable delays in providing care to non-Covid patients and ever-growing waiting lists.

The latest National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) figures released Friday showed hospitals experiencing the highest increases in outpatient waiting lists over the past year included: Cork University Maternity Hospital (81%), Mayo University Hospital (46%) and St Michael’s, Dun Laoghaire (40%).

“Overall, consultant shortages, capacity deficits and the pandemic have resulted in a record 628,756 people now on the outpatient waiting list – an increase of over 66,000 (12%) in the past year and an additional 16,673 since October 2020, when Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the IHCA Annual Conference that he was “unambiguously committed” to pay restoration for Hospital Consultants appointed since 2012, a move which would immediately aid the filling of the current 728 vacant consultant posts,” the IHCA said.

Those figures also showed “sizeable increases” in the past 12 months in patients awaiting hospital treatment including a 205% increase in Croom Orthopaedic Hospital and a 161% increase in Naas General Hospital.

Prof Irvine said: “The appointment of additional consultants, on terms to be agreed with their representatives, is the key enabler that is required to tackle the unacceptable waiting lists now totalling 881,621. These existing lists, coupled with the backlog of an estimated 700,000 fewer hospital appointments that have arisen due to the pandemic last year and the expected 200,000 reduction this year, risk crippling our public health system. Unfortunately, failure to urgently address these issues can only lead to reduced patient outcomes, a scenario that can and should be avoided by the Minister.”