Government must answer ‘emergency 999 call’ on health service crisis

By dara
Friday, 13th January 2023

Waiting List Action Plan fails to deliver as almost 900,000 people on hospital waiting lists, 900 patients treated on trolleys and over 900 Consultant posts vacant, says IHCA

  • Landers  Prof Rob IHCA President 400X400 pngGovernment Action Plan fails to deliver waiting list target reduction of 132,000 (18%); only 29,800 (4%) taken off three main lists in 2022; 
  • Growth in ‘hidden lists’ brings total to 870,000 people on some form of NTPF waiting list at the end of December; a reduction of just 9,000 (1%) people awaiting care compared with start of 2022; 
  • Further 243,000 people are waiting for a hospital diagnostic scan, bringing total number awaiting hospital care to over 1.1m;
  • ED overcrowding causing widespread hospital cancellations, which will increase waiting lists further;
  • “This is a life-threatening situation for patients seeking care in our hospitals and requires a ‘999-like’ emergency response from Government,” says IHCA President Prof Robert Landers.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has today (Friday 13th January 2023) urged the Government to treat the growing crisis in the health service as an ‘emergency 999 call’, given that almost 900,000 people are on some form of NTPF waiting list, a record 931 admitted patients were treated on trolleys last week, and 918 permanent Consultant posts nationally are either vacant or filled on a temporary or agency basis.

The appeal from Consultants for an emergency response from Government comes as the latest figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) released today reveal that 870,000 people were on some form of NTFP waiting list at the end of December – a reduction of just 9,000 compared with the start of 2022.1

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly launched the Government’s €350 million Waiting List Action Plan for 2022 last February2 which committed to reducing active waiting lists for acute scheduled care by 18% (more than 132,00) by the end of 2022.

Before leaving office, former HSE CEO Paul Reid said that the HSE could not forecast whether a reduction in the waiting lists of 18%, 15% or even 10% could be achieved by the end of 2022.3 In fact, today’s NTPF figures confirm the three main waiting lists covered by the plan decreased by just 29,800 or 4%. This decrease takes account of 71,000 people who were removed from the waiting lists without any treatment in the first nine months of 2022 through an NTPF ‘validation programme’.4

Growth in a number of pre-admit, planned and suspension lists not widely publicised means that overall NTPF waiting lists reduced by just 9,180 in 2022, and have risen by a staggering 286,500 (49%) since the publication of Sláintecare in 2017. Including the additional 243,000 people on waiting lists for CTs, MRIs or ultrasounds nationally5 sees the total number of people awaiting hospital care now amount to over 1.1 million.

New analysis from the IHCA shows that the HSE is 102,500 outpatient appointments and procedures away from meeting the 18% reduction target for the end of 2022, including almost 97,000 outpatient appointments and around 5,500 inpatient/day case procedures and GI scopes.  

Last month, the number of patients awaiting inpatient/day case treatment increased for the fourth month in a row, and at 81,568 are at the highest level since the peak of the pandemic in April 2020.

Consultants have raised their concerns that the combination of the unprecedented spike in hospital overcrowding, the longstanding deficits in hospital capacity and the record vacant Consultant posts could see the number of people on hospital waiting lists reach new record highs in the months ahead, due to the continued cancellation of essential scheduled care across the country.

Commenting on today’s waiting lists, IHCA President Professor Robert Landers said:
“This is a life-threatening situation for patients seeking care in our hospitals and requires a ‘999-like’ emergency response from Government. With almost 900,000 people on waiting lists, over 900 vacant Consultant posts and 900 admitted patients treated on a chair or trolley on a single day last week, the numbers paint a stark picture of the crisis facing the health service.

“But we cannot forget that the vast waiting lists represent individual adults or children who could be experiencing pain, suffering or the psychological distress at not knowing when they will be able to receive the hospital treatment they need. This is a wholly unacceptable situation.

“Regrettably, in the short-term, waiting lists are likely to deteriorate further due to the cancellation of many outpatient appointments, inpatient admissions, and day case procedures, including chemotherapy and dialysis.

“The Government needs to urgently put in place a credible plan to provide care to the 1.1 million people awaiting essential hospital assessment and treatment. This can only be achieved by addressing the twin deficits of a shortage of Consultants and a lack of sufficient public hospital capacity. 

“The fact that 918 permanent Consultant posts, 23% of the total number approved, cannot be filled as needed is a shocking signal to Government and health service management that the current conditions in our public hospitals are not up to the standard required by skilled medical and surgical specialists to practise effectively. This in turn is driving our highly trained specialists abroad to pursue their careers in countries where they work in collaborative and supportive health services.”


1. Latest NTFP data as at end December 2022:
2. Waiting List Action Plan, 25 February 2022:
3. The Irish Times, 2 September 2022:
4. Dáil PR response from Minister Stephen Donnelly to Deputy John Lahart, 13 October 2022:
5. Dáil PQ response from Minister Stephen Donnelly to Deputy David Cullinane, 22 November 2022:

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