Northern Ireland news

Analysis: Shameful waiting lists must be tackled in absence of power-sharing

The north's waiting lists for inpatients are worse than all of England
Seanín Graham

THE number of patients waiting for hospital operations in Northern Ireland is now greater than those facing delays in England – a country which has 30 times our population.

It has become the norm to hear that a routine operation – but one that that will transform your quality of life – will not be offered in the north's hospitals for at least three to four years.

The alternative is to ring a private clinic, pay £180 to see a consultant within days and get a date for surgery, with prices for hip replacments now hitting £12,000.

The private doctor you see will more often than not be also working in the NHS – but the difference is you will be in an operating theatre within months.

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A loophole opened in 2014 with the creation of a European scheme that allowed desperate patients to travel to other EU countries and pay for surgery, and then claw back their money from the NHS.

It was barely used during its first year as there was little publicity around the programme.

For many people, the idea of getting on a plane after sourcing their own surgeon in eastern Europe was unthinkable.

However, after almost two years without a government, patients are applying in their droves to qualify for the scheme.

Pensioners who have lost their eyesight are among those travelling to Lithuania for cataract surgery, in what is surely one of the most appalling indictments of our health service.

With Brexit looming and the chances of Stormont returning pretty remote, the onus is on senior civil servants to escalate their NHS 'transformation' plan and tackle this shameful situation.

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