Orthopaedic patients waiting an extra five weeks for surgery since 2015
The average wait for a patient requiring orthopaedic surgery has increased by more than five weeks since 2015, new figures reveal.
A patient in Northern Ireland must now wait on average 28.8 weeks for admission for the trauma and orthopaedic speciality - an increase of over 35 days on the previous year.
At the end of March 2015 a patient waiting on elective orthopaedic surgery was on average expected to wait 23.4 weeks until admission, but a rise in demand for orthopaedic services and a shortfall in staff has driven up waiting times to over 28 weeks as of June 31 this year.
"Rising demand for orthopaedic services is being driven by many factors including the increasing older population, higher patient expectations, improvements in technology and a wider range of available procedures," health minister Michelle O'Neill said.
"The Health and Social Care Board is working with trusts to take forward a range of actions to reform the way in which elective care services are delivered," she continued.
These 'actions' include recent initiatives to support the increase in orthopaedic capacity across the north such as: waiting list validation of all patients waiting over nine months; increasing Clinical Assessment and Treatment Services (ICATS) capacity; the development of regionally agreed outpatient referral guidance and the continued roll-out of 'E-triage' to support medically led triage for orthopaedic referrals.
Ms O'Neill has said steps are also being taken to address a "current shortfall" in staff.
"A recent review of the orthopaedic medical workforce highlighted the current shortfall in Trauma and Orthopaedic (T&O) consultant posts and a range of appointments have been made across the Trusts to address this including a locum Orthopaedic consultant post in the Western Trust," she said.
"I have said consistently since becoming Minister in June that tackling excessive waiting times is high on my agenda," she added.
The figures were released following an Assembly question from DUP Mid-Ulster MLA Keith Buchanan.
He said it was "crucial" that people have access to the appropriate healthcare.
"Time is of the essence for those awaiting appointments and surgery. The previous Health Minister recognised that waiting lists were a problem and so announced further funding. I hope that the current Health Minister will continue to tackle this issue," Mr Buchanan added.
In two weeks time the health minister will set out her vision for health and social care in the north, which will include specific actions to reduce waiting times and "deliver sustainable improvement in this area".