Northern Ireland news

Waiting list survey reveals two in five people support a ban on consultants working in NHS and private sector

The research survey, 'Waiting Lists - The Public's View', provided a snapshot of public attitudes towards Northern Ireland's waiting list crisis
Seanín Graham

A BAN on hospital consultants working in both the NHS and private sector is supported by two in five people in Northern Ireland, a new survey on has found.

Public views on spiralling waiting lists and potential solutions to tackle the crisis are detailed in the 'snapshot' study of 1,000 adults.

The publication comes three weeks after health minister Robin Swann set out a £700 million 'roadmap' to reduce waiting times by 2026.

There are currently more than 335,000 people on the north's hospital waiting lists amid growing concerns about an emerging two-tier system.

Market research company Cognisense carried out their survey last month and also found that a third of respondents felt it was "acceptable" to pay the private sector to clear the NHS backlog - while a third said it was unacceptable.

Females, protestants and those without private health insurance are "on balance more supportive of

such a sub contract arrangement" to private clinics for waiting list work, the study found.

Views were also sought on the downgrading of local hospitals with care centralised in 'centres of excellence' - a key recommendation of multiple reports on health service reform in the north - with 54 per cent supporting the idea.

However, 42 per cent of respondents rejected smaller hospitals losing acute services, with the under-25s and those from lower socio-economic groups most opposed.

Opinions on banning consultants from working in both the NHS and the private sector "varied considerably with age", with the under-35s opposed but older people - in particular the retired - strongly in support of the move.

Some patients are waiting up to seven years to see a NHS hospital consultant - but can access the same medic or a consultant colleague privately within weeks if they pay up to £200 for a first assessment.

"Two in 5 adults would support a ban on consultants working in both the NHS and the private sector...Those with private health insurance are fairly balanced, whilst those relying on the NHS are on balance more supportive," the study said.

Meanwhile, almost one in two were opposed to the scrapping of free prescriptions and diverting money towards waiting lists.

"As might be expected sentiment opposing such a measure increases in lower socio-economic groups. The under- 25s are strongly opposed to sacrificing free prescriptions," researchers found.

Addressing his Assembly colleagues after unveiling his department's 'roadmap' plan, Mr Swann said: "The time for talk is over. What we need now is concerted action".

He said the crisis had been exacerbated by the pandemic but building for seven years.

The study concluded: "Though the general public are 4 times more likely to accept, rather than reject the establishment of centres of excellence as a means of reducing

waiting lists, they are twice as likely to be reluctant to contemplate the closure of some local hospitals as a consequence.

"Diverting budget from departments whilst ring fencing education is an acceptable option to half the population but only half as many would accept diversion of budget from all departments including education."

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