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80,000 people waiting more than a year for first hospital outpatient appointment

New figures show people are still waiting longer than they should for a first outpatient appointment at hospital

PEOPLE are still waiting longer than they should for a first hospital outpatient appointment, new figures show.

Statistics released by the Department of Health reveal that at the end of December, 271,553 patients were waiting for a first hospital appointment with a consultant.

More than three quarters were waiting more than nine weeks for their first appointment, with 80,651 patients waiting more than 52 weeks.

It comes as a report warns that significant investment is needed to transform how care is delivered.

The Elective Care Progress Report, published a year after the initial plan for reform of elective care services, showed a target on waiting times had not been met.

The Department of Health said the necessary funding had not been made available to ensure no-one faced a wait of longer than a year for a first outpatient appointment.

The aim of the major reform plan is for long-term improvement rather than short-term fixes, a doctor involved in the project said.

Dr Niall Herity, a consultant cardiologist at the Belfast trust, said he was not surprised the waiting time target had not yet been met, but was confident improvements would come.

"I think what's being proposed is a much more systematic, fundamental change to the way we deliver our services and I would expect the benefits to be seen over a period of a short number of years," he said.

Other statistics for the last quarter reveal 49.2 per cent of patients waited longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test in the last quarter, including cancer patients.

Margaret Carr from Cancer Research UK said it is "unacceptable that so many people in Northern Ireland are waiting too long for tests"

Margaret Carr from Cancer Research UK said it is "unacceptable that so many people in Northern Ireland are waiting too long for tests".

"This situation will be causing huge anxiety to those waiting to find out if they do or don’t have cancer," she said.

"Northern Ireland must join the other UK governments in committing to a cancer strategy. We are the only part of the UK without one."

The figures also show long surgery waiting lists with 61.2 per cent of patients waiting longer than 13 weeks to be admitted for inpatient or day case treatment.

Susan Hill from the Royal College of Surgeons said "patients' health is deteriorating due to long waits for surgery".

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