Healthcare news

Almost 400,000 people now on hospital waiting lists

Almost 400,000 people are on hospital waiting lists in the north

ALMOST 400,000 people are on hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland - with patients waiting for a first outpatient appointment increasing by almost 40 per cent in the past year.

Figures released by the Department of Health reveal that one in five of the north's population are waiting for either a diagnostic test, hospital appointment or procedure.

The number waiting for a first appointment has now topped 236,000, with the figure for patients waiting longer than the government target of 18 weeks more than doubling.

At the end of December there were 122,771 people waiting more than 18 weeks, compared with 48,579 a year earlier.

Targets for diagnostic waiting times were also breached with statistics showing around 94,000 people waiting in December.

The department states that no patient should wait longer than nine weeks for test results, yet at the end of last year more than a third of patients - more than 33,000 people - were waiting longer than this.

That is also an increase of 30 per cent since December 2014.

The figures reveal there were 67,000 people awaiting inpatient admission in December - up almost a quarter on the previous year.

Guidelines state no patient should have to wait longer than 26 weeks, but 21,413 were waiting this long.

The Irish News revealed earlier this week that the number of patients waiting more than a year for a first assessment with a consultant had increased by 800 per cent within just nine months last year.

Patients waiting more than a year for major operations also trebled over the same period.

Health minister Simon Hamilton said in November he planned to use £40m given to his department in the last reallocation of Executive funds to tackle waiting lists.

He said yesterday that "improving waiting times continues to be one of my key priorities and the vast majority of additional resources made available by the Executive in November are going directly towards tackling waiting times".

"This is expected to benefit some 60,000 to 70,000 patients who would otherwise be waiting for assessments, diagnostics and treatments, and is not yet reflected in December figures but will impact on the next set of official statistics."

However, Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson criticised his response, saying a "coherent, targeted and resourced plan" was needed.

"The Executive's only response to the current waiting list crisis has been to give a last-minute allocation of an additional £40m in the monitoring round," she said.

"Simon Hamilton claimed this would 'kick start' the local service, yet he doesn't mention the fact that last year the health department received over £80m in additional emergency in-year funding and the situation only continued to get worse."

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