New waiting list figures up to the end of January reveal a significant increase in the number of adults and children waiting for treatment, with 33 of 41 acute hospitals reporting rising lists.

When all waiting lists are counted, there are now 76,666 patients waiting for inpatient, day case or a gastrointestinal procedure, according to the new data from the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

This represents an increase of more than 21,500 patients comparing the end of January this year to the same time last year.

Of the overall figure, 63,740 people were waiting for inpatient, or day case treatment, an increase of 16,628 patients, compared with January 2014.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said waiting times are going in the wrong direction. 

Mr Varadkar said this had been compounded by emergency department overcrowding in recent weeks, which has caused some operations to be postponed.

Mr Varadkar said his plan is to alleviate the overcrowding first in the interests of patient safety and ramp up hospital activity later in the year, to get waiting times down. 

He said it was a very difficult and deteriorating situation but that everyone in health was working as hard as possible to get on top of things.

Galway University Hospital has the biggest waiting list in the country with 8,347 adults and children waiting for inpatient or day case treatment.

The waiting list there has grown by over 3,000 in the past year.

Just eight hospitals report a reduction in waiting lists.

Nationally, the number of patients waiting over a year for treatment has increased from 183 to 6,120 over the past year.

The January figures are also the first to reflect cancelled planned procedures during the month to deal with emergency department overcrowding.

The Chief Operating Officer for the Saolta University Healthcare Group, which includes Galway University Hospital, has expressed disappointment with the increase in hospital waiting lists across the country.

Tony Canavan said the emergency department in Galway was under immense pressure in recent months which had a direct impact on ability to deal with elective care.

He accepted that the target of 12 months maximum waiting time was not always met but that the majority of outpatients were seen within a year.

80% of in patients were seen within 8 months according to Saolta.

Mr Canavan said Minister Varadkar had now set a new target of 15 months maximum waiting time for every patient by the end of 2015. 

He went on to say that there had been progress in addressing the ongoing issue of patients failing to attend appointments through the introduction of a text service, which is reported to be improving the efficiency of administering hospital appointments.

Earlier the spokesperson for Patient Focus in the West of Ireland said the increasing waiting lists was a major concern.

Mary Tierney, who is on a waiting list herself, said there was a lot of stress, pain and suffering when waiting for a procedure and not knowing when it would take place.

She said early diagnosis, intervention and treatment is key to patient care and she urged Mr Varadkar and the HSE to work together and manage the situation better.

Ms Tierney added that there is a responsibility on patients to show up for appointments and procedures after confirming attendance.

Other hospitals with long waiting lists are: Beaumont with 6,121 waiting, Mater 5,593 and St James's with 4,689.

Because of the way waiting list figures are collected, gastrointestinal endoscopy cases are listed separately.

At the end of January, there were 12,926 patients waiting for a gastrointestinal check, up 4,902 over the past year.

There are over 800 patients waiting over nine months for a gastrointestinal endoscopy check.

When the 12,926 GI list is added to the 63,740 inpatient and day case waiters, the overall national waiting list figure is 76,666 patients.

Separately, 385,781 patients are waiting to be seen at an outpatient clinic for the first time.