Leading article

Health service needs to fix the waiting list problem

A number of reasons are frequently put forward to explain why patients have to wait an unacceptable length of time for treatment in Northern Ireland.

These include an ageing population, increased demand, difficulties in recruiting specialist staff and ultimately a shortage of money across the health service.

There is no doubt all these factors are at play although it is not clear why the situation here is so much worse than in England, where presumably the NHS is experiencing similar pressures.

It is important to look at all the underlying issues and to find a solution to a problem which is leaving thousands of sick people waiting months, if not years, for medical treatment.

It is an issue of paramount importance to these patients and also their GPs, who have referred them for urgent tests only to see them languish on a waiting list.

Now a west Belfast GP has decided to speak out. Dr Michael McKenna is highly critical of Stormont politicians for ``sitting on their thumbs'' instead of sorting out waiting lists.

However, he goes further, launching a scathing attack on consultants who carry out private work on top of their NHS commitments.

Dr McKenna said some patients are facing a wait of up to two years for a first hospital appointment yet they can get a private consultation - often with the same specialist - within five days if they pay £150.

It is certainly unusual for a member of the medical profession to be so outspoken about the working practices of colleagues while hospital consultants will point out they fulfil their NHS contracts and are entitled to carry out private work if they wish.

The fact is that Northern Ireland has a poor record on waiting lists. People with health issues are being failed abysmally by a system which is unable to meet targets on waiting times for treatment.

We need to fix this problem and ensure we have a health service which is focused on the needs of patients.

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