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Waiting lists rocket in north's crisis-hit health service

NHS waiting lists have rocketed in Northern Ireland with 32,000 patients waiting more than a year to see a consultant and almost 7,000 people facing lengthy delays for major operations
Seanín Graham

THE spiralling waiting lists of Northern Ireland's crisis-hit health service has been exposed by a series of shocking increases.

The wait to see consultants has increased, operations are being cancelled and cancer wait time targets have been broken.

The Irish News has learned:

* The number of patients waiting more than a year to see a consultant has increased by a staggering 800 per cent in nine months

* Patients waiting more than a year for major operations has risen three-fold over the same period with almost 7,000 facing lengthy delays

* Winter pressures led to almost 650 planned operations being axed in hospitals last month

* In a highly unusual move at least four urgent cancer operations were among those cancelled at the eleventh hour prompting major concerns among GPs

* And in December the maximum 62-day target for treating urgent cancer patients in the north was seriously breached

Latest figures show that by December 2015 more than 32,500 people were waiting for a ‘first appointment’ with a hospital specialist compared to just over 3,600 in March.

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Gynaecology, neurology, ENT, paediatrics, gastroenterology and cardiology are among the medical specialities affected – with some patients enduring two-year delays for investigations into potentially serious illnesses.

A Co Down mother-of-two diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time her father lost his battle to access NHS drugs for his cancer, said any delays in treatment were devastating for patients.

“Once you have a diagnosis it consumes you. You can’t do anything to help yourself, you can’t give yourself chemotherapy. The mental anguish is horrific,” said Tracy Martin.

In England, there was a public outcry when it emerged that by last December 755 patients had been waiting more than a year for major operations – in Northern Ireland, there were almost 7,000 people facing the same delay for planned surgeries.

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