More than 327,000 patients are waiting for their first outpatient appointment with a consultant - a rise of 5.6% from June, according to figures published by the Department of Health.
The latest published quarterly inpatient, day case and outpatient waiting times statistics were published on Thursday, outlining the situation up to September 30.
It reveals that 327,189 patients are on a waiting list for their first consultant-led outpatient appointment. This compares to 309,921 in June and 6.9% rise compared to last September (306,175).
Health Minister Robin Swann said it was unavoidable staff deployment to cope with the surge in coronavirus cases would add to the growing waiting lists.
“I very much regret that the number of people enduring excessive waits for assessment or treatment has increased again. Unfortunately this position can be expected to worsen further," he said.
He said tackling waiting lists remained a major priority despite having been "blown off course" due to the pandemic.
“I am very conscious that public spending is likely to be very constrained next year and that all Departments will be facing serious funding pressures," he added.
“The reality is that tackling waiting lists will not be possible without sustained and substantial investment and additional staffing.”
The figures also reveal that over four fifths - or 277,776 of patients (84.9%) - were waiting more than nine weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment, compared with 89.3% (276,753) at June.
This declined to 75.9% (232,239) by September.
A further 2,049 patients were waiting for their first consultant-led outpatient appointment at a Day Case Procedure Centre (DPC) for cataract treatment.
The 2020-21 ministerial target for outpatient waiting times states that by March next year at least 50% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, with no patient waiting longer than 52 weeks.
These statistics show that almost half of patients (155,497) - which equates to 47.5% - were waiting more than 52 weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.
This compares to 44.1% (136,633) at June 30 and 35.5% (108,582) in September 2019.
Meanwhile, a total of 99,718 patients were waiting to be admitted to hospitals in Northern Ireland - a 2.5% (2,475) jump than in June when
A total of 97,243 were on the admissions list.
This is also a 14.2% increase on last September when 87,353 patients were waiting on the list.
The diagnostic waiting times here have also witnessed increases, with a total of 160,663 patient waiting for the service - 7.5% (11,260) more than at June (149,403).
The ministerial target for diagnostic waiting times dictates that by March 2021, 75% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test, with no patient waiting longer than 26 weeks.
Thursday’s figures show that almost two-thirds (65.4% or 105,085) of patients were waiting longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test.
This compares to 73.8% (110,225) in June and 56.9% (79,842) in September 2019.
Almost half (44.8% or 71,968) of patients were waiting more than 26 weeks for a diagnostic test compared with 35.1% (52,393) at June.
The Department of Health is aiming for all urgent diagnostic tests should be reported on within two days of the test being undertaken. However, according to its own figures, of the 69,134 urgent diagnostic tests reported on, 86.2% (59,577) were reported on within two days.
The Western Trust reported the highest proportion of urgent tests within two days (91.8%), with the other health trusts reporting between 83.3% and 85.6% of urgent tests within two days.