More than 29,000 people were waiting for hospital treatment at the end of last year, according to figures from the Department of Health.

That's a rise of 3,000 compared to the previous year, but the Department of Health says the latest figures include people who had not been counted before now.

However, the figures do not reflect the impact of recent major cutbacks in the Dublin teaching hospitals, where elective surgery has been severely reduced by bed closures.

Sending patients abroad to private hospitals is just one way that the government has attempted to reduce waiting lists under the National Treatment Purchase Fund. 

In the last four years, the government has spent €172 million trying to cut the numbers and waiting times. However, this initiative has failed to have a significant impact on numbers. 

In 2002, Fianna Fáil promised in its election manifesto to permanently end waiting lists within two years. As Minister for Health Micheál Martin pointed out,

People shouldn't have to wait the length of time they are currently waiting.

The figures for December 2002 show that there were 29,000 people on the hospital waiting list, an increase of around three hundred on the figure from the previous September. 

There have been some successes in areas such as cardiac care and gynaecology, where waiting times have been reduced. 

These figures have been released two months late, and fail to account for the cutbacks at major Dublin hospitals. What is more, the figures do not include the tens of thousands of people still waiting to see a consultant. 

They show that Fianna Fáil's promise to permanently end waiting lists in two years was just that, an election promise.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 22 May 2003. The reporter is Aileen O'Meara.