More than 111,000 people have been added to hospital waiting lists in the past four years, despite the Government spending a staggering €1.2 billion over the same period on initiatives aimed at reducing patient wait times. The new analysis comes as the latest National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) figures released today reveal that 889,200 people were on some form of hospital waiting list at the end of February.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said that while a further €407 million is understood to have been allocated for the Waiting List Action Plan for 2024, due to be unveiled shortly, this is unlikely to achieve a significant reduction in waiting lists unless the opening of planned additional hospital capacity is fast-tracked by the Government. The vast sums of money spent over the past four years have resulted in increased activity, but this has been offset by higher-than-expected levels of patient demand, with additions to the waiting lists in 2023 8% higher than projected, 12% higher than in 2022 and almost 23% higher than in 2019. With confirmation that an additional 260,000 people were awaiting diagnostic scans at the end of the year, the total number of people on hospital waiting lists is currently estimated at over 1.1 million.

The Association has reiterated its position that the cancellation of surgery cannot become the ‘go-to solution’ or default response to ongoing lack of capacity and overcrowding at our acute public hospitals. The total number of hospital cancellations is expected to exceed 260,000 in 2023 when full-year figures are released. Consultants are concerned that, due to the pressures faced in the system, many of those who require treatment are having their scheduled appointments cancelled because they are described as ‘non-urgent’ cases. However, their conditions will only become more serious and difficult to treat the longer they are left waiting – often in pain, suffering and facing the psychological distress of not knowing when they will be able to receive care.

Commenting on today’s waiting list figures, IHCA President Prof Rob Landers, said,“The Government needs to fast-track the opening of the promised 1,500 additional rapid build hospital beds across 15 acute public hospital sites this year and avoid deferring their delivery any further. The impact that the increased presentations to Emergency Departments and the resulting cancellation of surgical procedures is having on patients is clear evidence of the urgent need for this additional capacity.”

“The opening of the promised six surgical hubs and the long awaited four elective hospitals must also be accelerated in order to provide the extra capacity that is required to make significant inroads into achieving the Government’s waiting list reduction targets. Without this additional capacity coming on steam, there is little prospect of the waiting list coming under control anytime soon.”