More than 300,000 patients in Northern Ireland are awaiting their first appointment with a consultant, the Department of Health has said.
Demand for care has continued to increase, steadily outstripping the ability of the system to meet it, officials added.
The department has publicly apologised to all those waiting too long for appointments and treatment.
It said: “The number of appointments and treatments being provided has increased over recent years.
“However, this increase hasn’t been sufficient to keep pace with the growth in demand.”
Waiting time statistics relating to the end of September were published on Thursday.
– A total of 306,180 patients were waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment, 2.3% (6,744) more than at June 30 (299,436) and 8.0% (22,683) more than at September 30, 2018 (283,497).
– An additional 1,263 patients were waiting for their first consultant-led outpatient appointment at a regional assessment and surgical centre for cataract treatment.
– Over three-quarters (75.9%, 232,239) of patients were waiting more than nine weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment, compared with 74.9% (224,130) at June 30 and 75.1% (212,985) at September 30, 2018.
– More than a third 35.5% (108,582) of patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment, compared with 35.2% (105,450) at June 30 and 33.2% (94,222) at September 30, 2018.
The department said: “For a number of years, significant additional investment was made available to help bridge this gap between demand and capacity.
“This included funding for extra in-house clinics as well as paying for treatments for patients in private clinics.
These extra monies have been in much shorter supply from 2014, due to financial pressures facing the health and social care system and wider public sector. Waiting lists have climbed steadily since then.
Demand for consultant-led new outpatient assessments has risen by 9.3% between 2009/10 and 2018/19, from 483,220 to 527,972.
Consultant-led new outpatient assessments delivered has risen by 8.6% between 2009/10 and 2018/19, from 465,276 to 505,210.
Demand for inpatient/day case treatment has risen by 2.4% over the same time period, from 247,751 to 253,602.
Inpatient/day case treatment delivered has increased by 1% over the same time, from 244,463 to 246,821.
This does not take account changes in complexity.
The department’s permanent secretary has said funding of between £750 million and £1 billion is required to eradicate waiting lists.