Senior doctors have called for an urgent increase in hospital beds to help clear the treatment backlog caused by coronavirus.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said plans set out two years ago to boost capacity needed to be implemented without further delay.
The 2018 National Development Plan (NDP) and Capacity Review proposed an additional 2,600 acute hospital beds and 4,500 community care beds across the health service.
The IHCA said almost 800,000 people were now on some form of National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) waiting list – up almost 34,000 on the same time last year.
The representative body said around 570,000 outpatients were waiting to be seen by a consultant – an increase of more than 15,000 on 2019.
And it said more than 86,000 were waiting on inpatient/day case treatments – a number than has increased by almost 20,000 since the start of the year.
Dr Donal O’Hanlon, president of the IHCA, said the impact of the Covid-19 response had seen all non-urgent care postponed. He said this was only beginning to restart for some health conditions.
“The confirmation from the NTPF that there are now almost 800,000 people waiting for care across our public acute hospitals should prompt greater urgency from Government, the Department of Health and the HSE,” he said.
“These numbers will grow further over the coming months as the impact of current delays in providing care to non-Covid patients of private and public hospitals and the cancellation of surgeries during Covid-19 crisis takes effect.
“The solutions to issues, such as waiting lists, which our health service continues to grapple with, have already been recommended but remain to be implemented.
It's recommended to wear face coverings where it's difficult to practice social distancing. If you wear one, you should still do the important things necessary to prevent the spread of #COVID19 such as social distancing and hand hygiene. For more see https://t.co/q4Ahv4HdrG pic.twitter.com/a3qjhq3Txf— HSE Ireland (@HSELive) May 15, 2020
“These include the 2018 National Development Plan and Capacity Review recommendations to put in place an additional 2,600 acute hospital beds and 4,500 community care beds.
“Increased acute hospital beds are necessary to not only increase capacity but to facilitate patient isolation and to underpin physical distancing in our public hospitals.
“Now more than ever, these beds need to be funded and put in place without delay. Workable solutions, such as these, if prioritised, can save lives and deliver necessary timely care to patients.”
Earlier this week, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said private hospitals would be used to help clear some of the NTPF lists as part of coronavirus link-up between the public and private healthcare sectors.
Dr O’Hanlon also said the Government could no longer “ignore” the need to recruit more consultants to fill an rising number of vacated posts.
“This stood at about 500 before the commencement of the Covid-19 crisis and will have increased further in the interim,” he said.
“As we continue to tackle the current challenges brought to our already strained health service by Covid-19, we need to urgently implement the recommendations in the 2018 Capacity Review and the NDP which have unfortunately been neglected by the Government over the past two years.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the HSE had to take measures to defer all non-urgent elective scheduled care activity, including outpatient clinics.
“This was to ensure patient safety and that all appropriate resources were made available for Covid-19-related activity and time-critical essential work.
“This decision was in line with the advice issued by the World Health Organisation, and the National Action Plan published on March 16.
“The NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team) has now recommended that steps be taken to resume non-urgent scheduled care in the context of the safe care guidelines set out by its Expert Advisory Group.
“The Department of Health continues to work with the HSE and NTPF to monitor elective care, to measure the impact of Covid-19 on scheduled care, and to work on the resumption of scheduled care in a safe environment.”