Health chief: surgery waiting times to 'get worse'
WAITING times for surgery are "likely to get worse" due to budget cuts, the head of the Health and Social Care Board has said.
Figures show that the number of patients waiting for appointments at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast has risen by 75 per cent in the last two years.
The Irish News revealed yesterday that a 96-year-old is among the patients facing delays of up to 18 months for hip operations at the north's biggest health trust.
The Belfast health trust has the worst record for delays followed by the Western and Southern trusts.
Head of the Health and Social Care Board Valerie Watts yesterday apologised to patients who have endured lengthy wait times for surgery.
"I am not proud to hear some of these stories, as CEO presiding over the Health and Social Care Board, to hear about these waiting times," she said.
But she told the BBC that waiting times are likely to increase in the coming year.
"We must understand that we have a finite budget within which we are working with this year," she said.
"We are predicting that those waiting times will stretch out - some of them will be significantly (worse)."
The crisis has become more acute following a decision last August to axe private firms from carrying out NHS work.
While the health trusts were told to "temporarily pause" their reliance on the independent sector, it is highly unlikely that the contracts will resume in the foreseeable future due to budget shortages.
Trade union Unite hit out at Ms Watts's comments and said they revealed a "shocking lack of responsibility within senior management".
Unite official Kevin McAdam said the north's health service "is failing patients and more and more dependent on exploiting the goodwill and commitment of a workforce stretched past breaking point".
“Both Westminster and the Stormont Executive must fulfil their responsibility to fund the health service adequately in order to meet the community's needs not to satisfy budget targets," he said.
"People pay enough taxes to expect a properly-funded Health service.
“The saddest part of this story is even if we were to start today to fix the problem, it would be seven years before we got back to last year's waiting list."
Concerns over lengthy waits for surgery come as statistics show waiting times at the north's accident and emergency departments have improved over the past year.
New figures reveal that the number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours has decreased from 293 in June 2014 to 236 last month.
The number of accident and emergency patients has continued to rise, with around 1,000 more patients recorded between June 2014 and last month, compared with the previous 12 months.