Hospital waiting lists continue to rise and there are now over 684,940 patients waiting for care around the country.

They show an overall small rise of around 116 patients but still represent a record number.

The figures for November were issued this evening by the National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Of the total waiting to be seen, or treated, over 97,400 were waiting for inpatient, or day case treatment, down on the previous month.

There were 26,140 waiting for a gastrointestinal check, also down on the previous month.

Over 497,721 were waiting to be seen by a consultant at an outpatient clinic, an increase on the previous month.

A further 63,657 people were scheduled for follow-up care soon, having had initial treatment already.

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Minister for Health Simon Harris said that for the fourth month in a row, the number of people waiting for a hospital operation or procedure had fallen and was at its lowest level for 12 months.

He said that over 50% of people are getting their operation in six months or less.

Mr Harris said there was a lot more to do particularly in relation to outpatients.

He said he expected to see significant inroads next year.

The Minister said that the way waiting lists are collated needs to be examined to ensure the data is the most accurate possible.

He said that Trinity College Dublin has been asked to make recommendations on how to improve the collection of waiting list data, to ensure the information is as accurate as possible.

Cross Border Healthcare Directive

The National Association of General Practitioners says that there are many hospitals in Europe which have significant capacity and excellent facilities to treat Irish patients, using the Cross Border Healthcare Directive.

Under this system, a patient can have their treatment abroad and recoup the key costs from the HSE.

Dr Andy Jordan, NAGP chairman, said that it is especially suitable for hip, knee and cataract operations as well as ear, nose and throat procedures.

He said that if each GP in the country was able to identify ten patients to avail of the directive, around 30,000 patients could be taken off the waiting list.

Dr Jordan said the NAGP had visited hospitals in Northern Ireland, Wales, France and Spain.

He said the hospitals he saw had huge capacity and excellent facilities and the NAGP was promoting the use of the Health Care Directive to make a sign.