Lengthy waiting time figures are 'deeply distressing'
THE number of people waiting for inpatient treatment for more than a year has shot up by almost 50 per cent in just 12 months, new figures show.
Statistics published by the Department of Health reveal that in September this year more than 19,700 people were on the lengthy waiting list compared to around 13,100 in the previous September.
Under government targets, no patient should wait longer than 52 weeks for treatment.
According to the figures, 283,497 patients were waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.
A total of 94,222 people have been waiting for more than a year for an outpatient appointment - a 28 per cent rise in 12 months.
The Royal College of Surgeons said the 52-week target had "not been completely achieved in over 11 years".
"Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland measures its waiting times in two stages: referral to first outpatient appointment, and then outpatient to inpatient," a spokesman said.
"Therefore, the real wait of many patients will be even longer than the statistics indicate."
Mark Taylor, Director for Northern Ireland at the Royal College of Surgeons, said the figures were "deeply distressing and depressing".
"They graphically underline the need for long-term investment, with certainty and clarity on budgets," he said.
"We can't go on like this - with health here operating on single year budgets and barely enough money to keep its head above water, let alone tackle the backlog of patients waiting for care."
He said although £30 million of extra funding provided as part of the DUP's 'confidence and supply' deal with the Tories had taken "significant numbers" of patients off waiting lists this had "only slowed the increase in the backlog".
Mr Taylor said a radical transformation of the health service was needed - a view echoed by the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB).
A spokesman for the HSCB said patients had a right to expect "timely care".
"Unfortunately, for reasons that have been well documented, our system is not currently configured to provide that," he said.
"The only sustainable solution to this is transformation.
"A combination of factors is contributing to the increase in waiting times - including growing demand for services and demographic change."
He said the reorganisation of hospital services, including the development of specialist day surgery units, should allow more patients to receive treatment.