Number of patients waiting longer than six months for treatment increases by 25%

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of people waiting more than six months on a hospital care waiting list has risen by 25 percent, a new report shows.

health in Ireland Key Trends 2021 report, prepared by the Ministry of Health, found that the Covid-19 crisis has had a significant impact on the health service, especially waiting lists.

Hospital activity was heavily impacted by the pandemic, the report said, with total hospital and day care discharges falling by more than 14 percent in 2020 and emergency departments falling by more than 15 percent.

The effects on hospital waiting lists were “significant,” the report added.

In October 2021, more than 28,000 adults and nearly 4,000 children were on a waiting list for more than six months, which was 25 percent more than in March 2020.

The report also shows that the number of staff working in the health service has increased during the pandemic. At the end of 2020, more than 1,700 nurses and nearly 900 more doctors were employed in the HSE, compared to the end of 2019.

The increase in the number of health workers has contributed to a spending increase of more than €3 billion between 2019 and 2020.

Different data published on Wednesday showed that one in 25 Health Service Executive (HSE) employees are currently out of work due to a Covid-19 infection or close contact with a case. The 5,800 absent employees represent 4 percent of the total workforce, compared to 1,800 a month ago.

Outside of Covid-19, the report on key trends says that lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, physical activity and obesity remain issues “that have the potential to jeopardize many of the health gains achieved in recent years”.

The number of people being treated for drug use, excluding alcohol, is just under 10,000 people per year. The number decreased slightly between 2019 and 2020, but has generally been increasing since 2011.

For drug use, including alcohol, the number of people in treatment fell from 17,608 to 15,127 between 2019 and 2020, the first drop in three years.

The report also points to the country’s aging population. The number of people over 65 will grow from a fifth to more than a third of the workforce over the next two decades, impacting how health care is financed.

“Health inequalities are closely linked to broader social determinants, including living and working conditions, difficulties in accessing services, and cultural and physical environments,” the report states.

“Along with an aging population, unfavorable trends, if not addressed now, will lead to an unhealthy and expensive future.”

Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly said the report presents an “important opportunity” to assess the impact to date of the Covid-19 pandemic on the deployment of health care resources.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown our health service to be resilient, but we continue to face an ongoing challenge to address the need for both Covid and non-Covid care.”

He added that Ireland’s changing demographics will emerge as “the biggest challenge we face in planning our healthcare in the future”.

“The good news is that people are living longer and we need to ensure that more of these years, especially in later life, are spent in good health with care at home or in the community,” he added.

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