Almost 250,000 people waiting for a first consultant appointment
ALMOST 250,000 people in Northern Ireland are waiting for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant, latest figures show.
Statistics released yesterday by the Department of Health show that at the end of December, a total of 246,198 patients were waiting for a first appointment with a consultant, a 4.6 per cent increase on the number waiting at the end of December 2015.
Of those, 47,072 patients were waiting more than 52 weeks while almost three-quarters were waiting more than nine weeks.
The figures also revealed that at the end of December, a total of 70,782 patients were waiting for inpatient and day case admission - 40,000 of which were waiting more than 13 weeks.
In addition, 8,470 of these patients were waiting more than a year. This was up 10.3 per cent on December 2015.
It was also revealed that at the end of December, 105,316 patients were waiting for a diagnostic service. Of these, 43 per cent were waiting more than nine weeks. This was up 36 per cent on December 2015.
The number of people waiting more than 26 weeks for a diagnostic test also rose from 7,111 in December 2015 to 11,023 last December.
Ulster Unionist Health spokeswoman, Jo-Anne Dobson said the figures showed that the "unprecedented crisis engulfing the health service in Northern Ireland is deepening".
"Unfortunately now, with no functioning Executive and no genuine plan to tackle the crisis, waiting lists will continue to spiral and essential decisions will be further delayed. Politics has been placed ahead of patients. That is an abhorrent situation".
Margaret Carr, from Cancer Research UK, branded the waiting time for diagnostic tests "simply not good enough".
"Swift action is needed as patients are waiting too long for potentially life-saving cancer treatments," she said.
The DUP's Paula Bradley called on the health minister to "come clean and release into the public domain the real waiting list figures," claiming Ms O'Neill had access to "much more up to date figures" and "in the interests of transparency this information should be made available".
However Ms O'Neill said that statistics "give an indication of the most up to date situation".
"Department of Health waiting times statistics are official recognised statistics, produced according to the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.
"They are published in line with those released in Britain and have undergone a rigorous quality assurance process by the Statistics Authority in order to promote public confidence and trust in official statistics. Because of the rigorous quality assessment that we undertake, they will not be as current as the Health and Social Care Board indicators, but will be accurate, valid and reliable."
She added that the increase in waiting times was "unacceptable".
"On February 7 2017 I published an Elective Care Plan which sets my commitment to addressing waiting times for planned treatments, care and diagnostics," she said.
"A key component of the plan is a commitment to provide assessment, treatment and care to reduce the waiting lists backlog requiring £31m identified in the plan while starting the longer term process to transform secondary, primary and community care services. It is only in this way that we will achieve a sustainable solution.
"I know how much of a concern this is to those who are waiting. I have made it very clear from my first days in office that long waiting times are totally unacceptable to me and need to be addressed."