Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson, Billy Kelleher has said it is totally unacceptable that patients are not getting access to health services that they clinically need.

Deputy Kelleher was commenting after it emerged that the numbers on waiting lists are continuing to increase, and that the total number of people waiting now stands at 666,000.

“The figures have never been as bad. What’s more startling is that despite the public outcry, and the hand wringing from Minister Harris less than two months ago, following an RTÉ Investigates exposure on the rocketing waiting lists that are slowly grinding the health system to a halt, it has gotten worse.

“The health system is facing an existential crisis yet Minister Harris unfortunately thinks that public pronouncements of disappointment are what are needed.

“The fact is we don’t have enough spending on care in the system, and the system is unable to recruit and retain the staff needed to provide the top class health care we all want to provide to our people.

“Only last week, we saw two wards close due to lack of investment, and a lack of nurses in Tipperary and Waterford.

“I am deeply concerned that the number of people waiting longer than 12 months is continuing to increase. It’s clear that whatever strategy Minister Harris is following is failing, and failing badly.

“During the negotiations that led to the establishment of the minority government last year, Fianna Fáil secured a commitment from Fine Gael to re-establish the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

“While this eventually happened at the start of 2017, it’s clear that its funding and output needs to be ramped up significantly. If the HSE is unable to provide treatments, then we need to look at private hospitals to deal with the backlog.

“There will be those who claim to have an ideological or philosophical opposition to using private operators to deliver public health services.

“I don’t share their concerns. The only ideological issue I have would be the Irish State continuing to force hundreds of thousands of citizens to wait for basic treatments and care.

“Minister Harris needs to quickly secure approval from the Department of Public Expenditure for additional funding, not transferred funding, to scale up the NTPF to tackle these waiting lists.

“Unless targeted action takes place, our health system may be irrevocably damaged, and we all suffer as a result,” concluded Kelleher.