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Unacceptable waiting lists need to be tackled

People are entitled to ask, how bad do our waiting lists have to get before radical steps are taken to address this major issue?

Once again we are confronted with appalling figures on the length of time patients are being forced to wait for treatment.

Department of Health statistics show that the number of people waiting for inpatient treatment for more than a year has increased by almost 50 per cent in just 12 months.

In other words, what was already an unacceptable situation has got much worse.

Under government targets, no patient should wait longer than 52 weeks for treatment.

Yet the latest figures show that in September, more than 19,700 people were waiting longer than a year for inpatient care, which was 6,600 more than in September 2017.

In terms of outpatients, 94,000 people have been waiting more than a year for an appointment, which is also substantially up on last year.

Because of the way Northern Ireland measures its waiting times, the real wait for many patients could be even longer than the statistics indicate, according to the Royal College of Surgeons.

Spokesman Mark Taylor said the figures are ''deeply distressing and depressing,'' and few would argue with that sentiment.

He pointed out that while the £30 million in extra funding from the DUP's confidence and supply deal with the Conservative government had taken 'significant numbers' off waiting lists, this had only slowed the increase in the backlog.

The problem facing the health service is profoundly difficult and it is a situation that is having a detrimental impact on thousands of people who are waiting much longer than they should have to for treatment.

Both Mr Taylor and the Health and Social Care Board believe that the best way to tackle this crisis is through transformation of our healthcare system, including the reorganisation of hospital services.

It does not help that we have no minister to direct a strategy of change but staying as we are is clearly not working.

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