Hospital waiting lists see sharp rise in last 12 months
HOSPITAL waiting lists have shot up in the last year, with more than 305,000 people now waiting on a first appointment with a consultant.
Newly-released figures show that waiting lists have risen by 8.3 per cent since December 2018.
More than a third of patients were waiting for more than a year for an appointment.
According to ministerial targets, by March this year no patient should wait longer than 52 weeks and at least 50 per cent of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment.
Although day case surgery hubs to handle cataract and varicose vein procedures were put in place in 2018, the figures show that 2,698 patients are waiting for cataract surgery, with 1,002 waiting for a varicose vein procedure.
The ministerial target for March states that three-quarters of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test.
However, the statistics show that, as of December 31 2019, 57.5 per cent of patients were waiting for a test for more than nine weeks, compared with 51.3 per cent at December 31 2018.
Health minister Robin Swann said the waiting times were "simply appalling".
"Far too many people are waiting far too long for assessment and treatment," he said.
Mr Swann said Stormont "can and must put this right".
"The starting point is spelt out in New Decade New Approach – that no one waiting over a year at 30 September 2019 for outpatient or inpatient assessment/treatment will still be on a waiting list by March 2021.
"This will require in the region of £50m as part of the 2020/21 health budget."
He said the NHS in Britain, the Republic's health service and private healthcare providers in both countries may be used to tackle the waiting list backlog.
Meanwhile, a survey by the Royal College of Surgeons has found the north's long waiting times have had an impact on surgeries.
Nearly six in ten surgeons said they had to undertake more complex surgery due to a patient being on a long waiting list, including for more advanced cancers.
More than 93 per cent said staff in their trust were unable to operate because there were not enough beds to admit patients.
And nearly two-thirds of surgeons had to cancel operations on the day of the planned surgery, including due to a lack of ward beds, access to an operating theatre and a lack of staff.
Mark Taylor, Northern Ireland director of the RCS, said the north's waiting times are the worst in the UK.
"The experience and expertise of surgeons should be utilised to develop a sustainable, joined-up plan to address the waiting list backlog and ensure that transformation of the system ensures we are not in this position in the future," he said.