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Admin problem hitting operations needs to be sorted

One of the biggest priorities facing health minister Simon Hamilton is tackling the unacceptably long waiting lists for patients in Northern Ireland.

Latest figures show there are more than 400,000 people on a list in Northern Ireland waiting for treatment, a hospital appointment or diagnostic test.

Of these, 62,000 are facing a lengthy delay for an operation, something that has an enormously detrimental impact on someone's quality of life. Many people are living in pain, unable to work or do many of the normal activities we take for granted.

Mr Hamilton, who came under considerable pressure last year over these figures, came up with an additional £40 million in the November monitoring round, a decision that was broadly welcomed.

Certainly, there was an expectation that we would quickly see significant progress being made on the backlog with a predicted 10,000 to 15,000 procedures being carried out and 40,000 people assessed.

Among those patients being targeted are those requiring hip and knee replacements and stomach and spinal surgery.

We are told that private contracts are in place to tackle the lists with funding, staff and theatre slots ready to carry out much-needed operations.

However, it appears that this important work is being held up, not because of funding or a lack of medical staff but because of delays in simple administrative tasks.

According to one private hospital, thousands of ear, nose and throat and general surgical procedures cannot be done because they have not received the necessary paperwork.

This is leading to theatre slots being wasted, which is deeply frustrating for patients who have waited long enough for treatment.

Many people will find this situation almost beyond belief but it surely is a problem that could be resolved within a short time.

The Department of Health has come up with the funds but it is vital that all other parts of the system work to ensure patients get their operations as soon as possible.

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Leading article