Patients waiting more than a year for surgery in `deplorable' Northern Ireland health service backlog
SICK people are waiting more than a year for vital operations, after already enduring "many weeks" to see a specialists - with surgeons warning that the north's health service "does not have the capacity" to deal with the backlog.
The Department of Health's latest waiting time statistics show more than 5,280 (34.6 per cent) trauma and orthopaedics patients and 3,133 (19.9 per cent) general surgery patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for treatment.
Almost two out of three patients (62.3 per cent) were waiting longer than 13 weeks to be admitted for inpatient or day case treatment in the first quarter of the year.
Meanwhile, 83,000 patients were waiting longer than a year for a first appointment with a consultant - a statistic branded "frightening" by Ulster Unionist health spokesman Roy Beggs.
"The figure has more than doubled in just 18 months and it illustrates the scale of the pace at which the situation is deteriorating," he said.
"With every passing day the crisis in the local health service deepens. Whilst there were severe pressures two years ago, the situation today is wholly unrecognisable compared to even then."
Health service targets require that fewer than 45 per cent of patients should be waiting more than 13 weeks and no patient should be waiting longer than 52 weeks for treatment.
That target has not been met since the first quarter of 2013 and the 52 weeks target has not been completely achieved in more than 11 years.
Susan Hill, Royal College of Surgeons vice president, said the latest figures "show no respite for the deplorably long list of patients waiting for surgery in Northern Ireland".
"It is clear the service does not have the capacity to deliver the number of operations needed for new patients or to address this unacceptable backlog," she said.
Ms Hill said the release of £30 million in `transformation funds' from the confidence and supply deal between the DUP and Conservatives, targetting waiting time pressures was "welcome and desperately needed", but deeper re-structuring is urgently needed.
"Political instability, a lack of leadership and failure to put in place a budget for much needed reforms in Northern Ireland, mean too many patients are being left ill, in pain and discomfort, and unsure as to when they might receive the treatment they so desperately require," she said.
"The longer patients wait for surgery, the more they are at risk of their health deteriorating. Many remain unable to work or carry out day-to-day tasks, causing immense stress to them, and their families."
"...Until a government is formed, a health minister is appointed and a budget is agreed, there is little hope of the sort of progress that is needed to significantly cut waiting times."
SDLP health spokesman Mark H Durkan said: "At a time when we desperately need to see reform implemented, we are instead seeing a health service which is being starved of strategic and political direction.
"Our people deserve more than this, but without reform we will continue to fail patients and fail staff."