GP lashes out at "indefensible" waiting lists

Dr Michael McKenna has criticised the north's dire hospital waiting lists
Seanín Graham

A LEADING GP has launched a scathing attack on Stormont politicians and NHS consultants doing private work over "indefensible" waiting lists.

Dr Michael McKenna, who is also a senior British Medical Association member, said his counterparts in England are "incredulous" at the dire state of the north's health service - and warned that serious illnesses are being potentially missed due to lengthy delays across several specialties.

The west Belfast GP spoke out as waiting lists continue to rocket - with some patients facing up to two years for a first hospital appointment while they can access a private appointment within five days for £150, quite often with the same consultant.

The majority of consultants working in the north's private healthcare sector also have NHS contracts, a practice which is allowed as long as there is “no conflict of interest”.

Dr McKenna, who heads up a large practice on the Falls Road, said his English counterparts would be "jumping up and down" if they breach waiting time targets "by a couple of weeks".

Hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland are now among the worst in Europe, with one in five of the population is facing delays and a staggering 373,000 waiting for hospital appointments.

"Obviously consultants are free to do what they wish and work where they want. But it is frustrating is that you will wait only a week or two to see a consultant in the private sector - many of whom are working in the NHS. How could you sleep at night when you have that on your conscience?" Dr McKenna said.

"Many of my patients cannot afford to go down the private route and have become 'normalised' to these waiting lists when they are indefensible.

"The private clinics repeatedly say they are more efficient – but that's because they don't have do deal with the level of complexity of illnesses within the NHS. They can cherry-pick what operations they want to carry out.

"Meanwhile, our politicians in Stormont are sitting on their thumbs and can't sort the waiting lists out because they don't trust each other. It is shocking. They should be looking for long-term solutions to tackle the inefficiencies.”

The axing of private healthcare contracts with the NHS in August 2014 has been linked to the crisis as well as massive funding constraints, with health trusts implementing stringent workforce cuts to 'break even' in their budgets.

The north is now the only part of the NHS which does not use the private sector to reduce waiting times.

A former chair of the British Medical Association said the government needs to reorganise the entire healthcare system as the current arrangements "aren’t working".

Dr Brian Patterson also said he had "difficulties" with the ethics around private practice alongside NHS work.

"I have no problem with private medicine on its own but what annoys me that people are being forced to get loans to pay for it because they cannot get seen on the NHS," he said.

"There has been a 60 per cent increase in the number of NHS consultants in Northern Ireland over the past decade yet private clinics are bursting at the seams on a Monday morning.

"Twenty years ago private work was carried out in the evenings or at weekends but now a lot of it is between 9am to 5pm. Meanwhile less operations are carried out on the NHS than in the private sector - why is this the case?”


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