Hospital waiting lists could be missing thousands of people who delayed hospital assessment or referral during pandemic, consultants warn

  • Over 300,000 fewer outpatient appointments in March, April and May 2020 compared with 2019 means thousands of patients have postponed seeking care and referrals to hospitals for appointment;
  • Hidden increase in waiting lists due to reduction of non-emergency and non-COVID-19 care in acute hospitals during pandemic;
  • Number of inpatients treated decreased by around 43,000 and day case procedures fell by almost 128,000 over same period compared with last year;
  • 816,716 people are now waiting on some form of NTPF waiting list, an increase of 47,952 since the start of 2020.

 The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has on Friday, 10 July 2020 warned that the number of people who need acute hospital care could be greater than reported.

The warning comes as the latest NTPF waiting lists figures for the end of June 2020 are published and show:

  • 816,716 people are now on some form of NTPF waiting list, an increase of 47,952 since the start of 2020;
  • 584,399 outpatients nationally are waiting to be seen by a consultant, an increase of 8,536 (1.5%) on last month and of 30,965 (5.6%) since the start of the year; with
  • 84,223 now wating for inpatient/day case treatment, a decrease of 2,723 or 3.1% on last month but an additional 17,518 (26.3%) patients since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.


However, consultants say these figures do not yet include people who have had their care disrupted or have postponed seeking care and referrals to hospitals for appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reduction in non-emergency and non-COVID-19 care in acute hospitals over recent months has resulted in a hidden increase in the number of people who delayed seeking care but need to be assessed by a hospital consultant and be provided with acute hospital treatment.

The IHCA has said that the numbers of people needing hospital assessment and care are not fully reflected in the current NTPF figures reported for the end of June 2020 as these cases will not yet have been placed on any waiting list.

In March, April, and May this year, compared with the same months in 2019 there were:

  • 300,000 fewer outpatient appointments, with new and return outpatient attendances declining from 869,581 to 567,416 this year;
  • Approximately 43,000 fewer inpatient cases, which decreased from approximately 50,000 in February to 35,000 in April, before climbing back to around 42,000 in May;
  • Almost 128,000 fewer day case procedures, down from 90,000 in February to approximately 42,000 in April, before increasing slightly in May.


The NTPF recorded an increase of 17,309 in the outpatient waiting list (+3.1%) over the same three-month period (March-May) and an increase of 25,845 (+4.6%) in the past four months to the end of June.

The necessary reduction in appointments since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, has amplified even further the unacceptable long waits patients now endure.

Commenting on today’s waiting list figures Dr Donal O’Hanlon, President, IHCA, said:

“The overwhelming capacity deficits that have existed over the past decade due to underinvestment have been exacerbated by the accumulated backlog of patients due to the pandemic.

“The Government must urgently expand public hospital capacity by opening more hospital beds and other facilities and by filling the 500 plus permanent hospital consultant posts that are now vacant. If the Government does not fill these permanent consultant posts without delay it will be condemning the population to ever-increasing delays in obtaining urgent assessment and hospital treatment.

“The consultant recruitment and retention crisis must be addressed by Government immediately in view of the significant challenges our acute hospital services have and will continue to endure in the months and year ahead. 

“The Consultant salary inequity applying since 2012 is the root cause of Ireland’s consultant recruitment and retention crisis and the unacceptable numbers of people on record waiting lists. The Government must restore pay parity immediately in order to fill the over 500 permanent Consultant posts that are vacant.

“The IHCA has sought an urgent meeting with Minister Stephen Donnelly to agree practical plans and workable solutions to address these pressing challenges.”

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