Waiting times on the rise again, figures show
POLITICAL deadlock is `paralysing' public services it has been warned as figures reveal more than 100,000 patients are waiting at least a year for hospital treatment.
The latest quarterly waiting times statistics show targets are being missed and the numbers facing lengthy delays are increasing.
Those waiting for consultant-led outpatient appointments, diagnostic tests and inpatient or day case treatment at Northern Ireland hospitals are all on the rise.
Charities and professional bodies criticised this as unacceptable.
They pointed out that targets have changed often over the years. Using the targets in force at each quarter, the 52 weeks goal has not been achieved in more than a decade.
Ministerial targets for both outpatients and inpatients state that by March 2019, no one should wait longer than a year.
For consultant-led outpatient appointments, those waiting 52 weeks or more is increasing - 32.1 per cent (88,598), compared with 30.9 per cent (83,392) at March 31 2018, and 24.2 per cent (64,074) at June 30 2017.
The total number waiting was 275,884, more than the same quarter last year (264,451).
Also at June 30 2018, a total of 83,746 patients were waiting for admission to hospital. Of these, 21.6 per cent (18,080) were waiting more than 52 weeks, up from 11,261 last year.
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said the high numbers were a symptom of long-standing problems with the north's health service.
It was not helped by the political impasse, said Mark Taylor, the RCS director for Northern Ireland.
By contrast, in England around 3,500 patients were waiting more than a year for treatment – approximately 0.1 per cent of the entire waiting list.
Mr Taylor called for the urgent return of the Northern Ireland Executive.
"Significant decisions and legalisation are needed to bring about the changes required to address waiting lists and make the NHS sustainable for the future. It is unacceptable for patients to continue to spend many months on waiting lists," he said.
"The political deadlock that has paralysed public services in Northern Ireland has gone on too long now and is hurting the health of the nation. The RCS recognises there is the will from all involved in the delivery of care to bring about change, however such a reconfiguration requires political leadership and a sustainable budget. Without this, we fear waiting times in Northern Ireland will continue to spiral out of control, putting patients at very real risk."
Cancer Research highlighted statistics that showed almost half of patients were waiting longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test.
"These statistics suggest that the health service in Northern Ireland does not have enough staff to be as effective as possible in diagnosing cancer. This situation is deeply concerning, particularly as demand for tests is only going to grow due to an ageing population and efforts to diagnose more people at an early stage," said Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager for Northern Ireland.
"It's vital patients receive the right tests and results in good time. It's crucial there are enough imaging, endoscopy and pathology staff working to deliver tests."
The Health and Social Care Board said waits experienced by many patients were unacceptable.
A combination of factors were behind the figures, it said, including a growing older population and an increased demand for services.