Department of health reveal waiting list figures increase again

More than 270,000 people are currently waiting for a first hospital outpatient appointment with a consultant

MORE than 270,000 people are currently waiting for a first hospital outpatient appointment with a consultant in Northern Ireland.

Quarterly statistics released yesterday by the Department of Health reveal the figure has increased by almost 30,000 compared with the same period last year.

The British Medical Association (BMA) last night described the increase in waiting times as "disappointing but not surprising" given the "urgent need of transformation" in the health system.

At the end of September, just over 200,000 patients had been waiting more than nine weeks for an outpatient-led appointment.

The department's target that no patient should wait more than 52 weeks to see a consultant has also not been met. Figures indicate 73,380 people have been waiting more than a year, which is also an increase of 16 per cent since September 30 last year.

Waiting times for day cases and diagnostics, crucial in catching and treating serious illness, have also risen.

Figures show 75,240 people were waiting on admission to hospital in September, while 112,521 patients were waiting for a diagnostic test with around half of these people waiting longer than the health department's target of nine weeks.

Dr Anne Carson, chair of BMA Northern Ireland’s consultant’s committee, said "underlying issues" in the heath system need addressed.

"Our health system is in urgent need of transformation," she said.

"It is essential we have proper workforce planning that addresses key issues including the recruitment and retention of medical staff.

"We have welcomed recent announcements of additional funding for health.

"However, waiting list initiatives are only sticking plasters. If we do not address the underlying issues we are still left with a system that is broken and the waiting lists will recur."

Margaret Carr from Cancer Research UK also described waiting list times as "unacceptable".

"Waiting to find out if you do or don’t have cancer can be an incredibly anxious time and it’s unacceptable that some people are having to wait so long for tests," she said.

"There is increasing pressure on diagnostic services in Northern Ireland as more people are being sent for tests. A shortage of skilled staff is also contributing to some delays.

"Northern Ireland needs a new comprehensive cancer strategy which should include a review of all diagnostic services and how they are organised and staffed."

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