The Department of Health has said that while overall hospital waiting list numbers have remained broadly constant, the figures for patients waiting a long time to date this year have been falling significantly across all targets.

An internal briefing paper from the Department says that countries across Europe are reporting increased pressure on waiting lists, largely due to the huge impact of the pandemic.

"Overall waiting list increases in Ireland have not been as significant as those experienced in the North and in England," it notes.

The Department says that the number of patients waiting over 12 months for a gastrointestinal scope has fallen by 78% in the year to date.

The number waiting for over 12 months for an inpatient/day case treatment has fallen by 15% in the year to date and the number waiting over 18 months for outpatients has fallen by 25% in the year to date.

The Department says that waiting lists remain too long and that Covid-19 infection control measures are affecting efforts to reduce lists.

It adds that the challenges will be to maintain planned operations during the winter months and securing nursing staffing levels in orthopaedic wards and theatres.

The briefing paper says that up until the end of June, Waiting List Action Plan targets were broadly on track but experienced a marked deterioration from July to September, but that the situation has improved with waiting list removals and long waiter reductions.

The last national waiting list figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund put the total for October at over 841,000 patients waiting for treatment, a drop of 11,200 on the previous month.