‘Damning picture’ of hospital waiting lists reveals real scale of increases in waiting times for care this year

By dara
Friday, 10th December 2021
  • Waiting room with masks iStock 1278968571 webOver 897,000 people waiting to be treated or assessed by a hospital Consultant across the country; 
  • An increase of more than 58,400 people added to the lists so far in 2021;
  • Inroads in main outpatient and inpatient/day case lists are offset by escalating delays in other lists such as planned procedures; 
  • Ongoing Consultant contract discussions critically important to filling the 1 in 5 vacant consultant posts and reducing waiting lists.

IHCA President Prof Alan Irvine: “The scale and complexity of what the health service now faces over the winter months and into 2022 is unprecedented. We have a backlog of care greater than anything we have seen over the past decade. We are not bringing these lists under control quick enough and the lack of progress this year is really damning.”

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today (Friday, 10 December 2021) warned that waiting lists are not being brought under control quick enough, with apparent reductions in outpatients lists masked by increases in waiting times elsewhere. 

The warning comes as new figures show a damning picture of delays to care this year – with  897,153 people now on some form of NTPF waiting list to be treated or assessed by a Consultant, an increase of 58,478 people (7%) since the start of 2021*.

The IHCA says that while the overall number appears to have reduced, any apparent inroads with the main hospital waiting lists are being offset by increases in wider lists for planned procedures, pre-admissions and inpatient and outpatient suspensions maintained by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

The total figure of over 897,000 includes the three main waiting lists: 636,695 awaiting an outpatient appointment, 75,740 patients waiting for inpatient or day case treatment and a further 29,960 awaiting a GI scope. 

But there are also 154,758 people are on various separate lists for planned procedures, pre-admissions, or suspensions. This is the highest level these wider waiting lists have ever been, seeing an increase of 23% over the past year alone - or 28,800 additional patients.

The Outpatient Suspensions waiting list** for example has increased by a shocking 170% since the first set of figures in this new category were published at the end of January this year, and now totals 18,721 people. 

While progressing through the appointment process, these patients are still waiting for care and have not yet seen a hospital Consultant or received treatment – meaning the backlog is shifting, not being reduced. 

These increases come despite the Department of Health’s Acute Waiting List Action Plan for September to December 2021***, which pledged a modest target of reducing waiting lists by around 36,600 over the four months to the end of the year. 

In reality, the number of people waiting for some form of hospital care has only reduced by 10,464 since August. There are in fact more patients now waiting for inpatient or day case hospital care compared with August.

Consultants have renewed their call on Government to bring an end to record hospital waiting lists by filling the one-in-five permanent hospital consultant posts that are vacant or filled on a temporary basis.

Commenting on today’s NTPF figures, IHCA President Professor Alan Irvine, said:
“We are simply not bringing these waiting lists under control quick enough and the lack of progress this year is really damning. With the current Covid pressures on the hospital system, the widespread cancellation of operations and the thousands of patients in need of treatment who have not yet been identified we are still looking at a likely waiting list of 1 million people in the near future. 

“The scale and complexity of what the health service now faces over the winter months and into 2022 is unprecedented. We have a backlog of care greater than anything we have seen over the past decade. 

“The root causes of the crisis go back much further to reductions in bed capacity in recent decades, and especially to the unilateral 30% salary cut imposed on Consultants contracted since 2012.

“It is essential that the Consultant contract discussions and Minister Stephen Donnelly deliver on the ‘unambiguous commitment’ he has made repeatedly to restore pay parity for all Consultants contracted since 2012. This is crucial if public hospitals are to attract and recruit the highly trained specialists needed to fill the one in five permanent hospital consultant posts across the country that are either vacant or filled on a temporary basis.”



* Analysis based on latest NTFP data: https://www.ntpf.ie/home/nwld.htm 

** The Outpatient Suspension List includes those previously on the Outpatient list who are either not ready to proceed with their appointment, or who have accepted an invitation to access care in another hospital through either an NTPF or HSE commissioning initiative. 

*** The Department of Health’s ‘Acute Waiting List Action Plan, September - December 2021’ is available at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c37dd-the-waiting-list-action-plan/

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Gerard O’Sheagerard@weare360.ie │ 087 413 7471

Lauren Murphylauren@weare360.ie │ 083 801 5917

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