Stormont parties clash over hospital waiting list surge
ASSEMBLY members clashed yesterday amid calls for the health minister to urgently tackle a 75 per cent hospital waiting list surge.
Sinn Féin's Maeve McLaughlin, chair of the Stormont health committee, said an action plan was needed from DUP minister Simon Hamilton to address spiralling waiting lists.
But the DUP accused Sinn Féin and the SDLP of impacting on health services by blocking welfare reform measures.
Patient numbers waiting for appointments at Belfast's Musgrave Park Hospital have rocketed by 75 per cent in the past two years.
Back surgery patients have been worst affected after being forced to wait 18 months for appointments, while waiting times for knee and hip appointments are also more than a year.
Documents sent to the BBC show that up to this month, there had been 11,846 breaches of the 18-week waiting list target for a specialist appointment.
The Belfast Trust said there had been an increase in demand for services, but extra funding had not been made available to increase capacity to meet that demand.
Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Maeve McLaughlin yesterday said the increase in waiting times for patients was "not acceptable".
"The health committee carried out an inquiry into waiting times and a number of recommendations were made, which need to be implemented as a matter of urgency," she said.
"An action plan is now needed from the department and the minister to reduce waiting times."
But DUP health committee member Paul Givan blamed problems on "executive resources being diverted to pay for welfare penalties".
The Lagan Valley MLA said the funding could have been used to "provide thousands more assessments and procedures".
He said: "Those making the decision to divert money from health to pay welfare penalties with the argument that they are purportedly protecting the vulnerable ignore the fact that people on waiting lists are vulnerable. Do their vulnerabilities not matter?
"The DUP is taking a responsible approach and a way forward was agreed in the Stormont House Agreement. It's time Sinn Féin and the SDLP recognised the impact their decisions are having on frontline services."