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More than 625,200 people waiting for hospital appointments

More than 625,200 people are waiting for an in-patient or out-patient appointment at hospitals across the country.

The number is an increase of nearly 1,500 on a month earlier. Almost 111,000 patients have been on a waiting list for at least 18 months.

The new figures, which relate to the end of February, have been released by the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Dr Martin Daly, a former president of the Irish Medical Organisation, described the figures as a disgrace, adding: "It shows there's an increased demand for health services in the State and that, with other public infrastructure in the State, we haven't invested heavily enough in it.

"We're now facing the coronavirus challange and it's clear our public health system will be stretched to the limit," he said.

"We really do need to reconsider how we fund our public health service in light of the coronavirus, and also in light of the increasing demands of people who expect to have public health services."

President of the the Irish Hospital Consultants Association Dr Donal O’Hanlon said: "In these unpredictable and unprecedented times, we are supporting our front-line staff who may have to curtail usual operations to look after urgently sick patients.

“The focus understandably is on freeing up bed capacity to allow for the coronavirus surge, so the cancellation of non-essential surgery is necessary given the scale of the challenge we are facing.

“For now, we have to all work together to create capacity in the immediate term and we welcome the contingency steps taken so far by the Department of Health and the HSE."