Health

One in seven people spent longer than 12 months on a hospital waiting list, High Court hears

In the first case of its kind in the UK, the two women allege failures to meet the minimum legal standards in the running of a health service and a breach of their human rights

ONE in seven people in Northern Ireland have spent longer than 12 months on a hospital waiting list amid "catastrophic" delays in securing treatment, the High Court has heard.

A judge was also told prospective patients in the north are nearly 50 times more likely than those in Wales to face a year-long wait for care.

The figures were disclosed in a joint legal challenge by two Belfast women over hold-ups in providing them with treatment.

May Kitchen (77) and Eileen Wilson (48) claim the authorities have unlawfully failed to provide them with necessary medical care within a

reasonable time.

In the first case of its kind in the UK, they allege failures to meet the minimum legal standards in the running of a health service and a breach of their human rights.

But their barrister argued everyone in Northern Ireland could be exposed to the ordeal of spiralling waiting lists.

Ronan Lavery QC said: "This is a problem right across the board, and it demonstrates the catastrophic nature of it".

Mrs Kitchen, a retired nurse who lives alone in north Belfast, was diagnosed with cataracts in 2015. Amid fears she would lose her sight, the pensioner was told that the waiting list for surgery was 42 months.

She used medical insurance for private treatment, but insists she should not be out of pocket due to her entitlement to free healthcare.

Ms Wilson, a mother-of-six from east Belfast, has been seeking an urgent consultation with a neurologist about her suspected multiple sclerosis since June 2017.

In proceedings centred on alleged delays pre-dating the pandemic, judicial review challenges have been brought against the Department of Health and Belfast and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trusts.

With 40 per cent of people on waiting lists aged over 60, the court heard the elderly are being disproportionately affected by the delays.

During submissions he set out a series of bleak findings in a report by Ulster University Professor Deirdre Heenan on the "gulf" between waiting lists in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The court also heard that by last September more than a quarter of a million people in the north had waited longer than 12 months to go into hospital and 191,000 people waiting longer than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment.

Mr Justice Colton was told no attempt has been made to dispute the figures.

"It seems to be uncontroversial, that's the state of waiting lists," counsel said.

Alleging the state has breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, he submitted: "There can't be any doubt that your family and private life is affected by the ordeal of waiting for years on a waiting list".

When it was put to him that the court should not interfere in clear issues of political strategy and resources, Mr Lavery acknowledged that no judicial direction on policy matters could be made.

"The most the court can do is declare that what is happening at the moment is unlawful, it may even declare that a plan should be put in place," he added.

The hearing continues.

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