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Patients languishing on waiting lists deserve better

The latest waiting times for treatment in Northern Ireland confirm the appalling situation facing patients who have been badly let down by our healthcare system.

This is a crisis that has been building for many years and reflects a failure to take the strategic, long term decisions that could help ensure our health service is robust enough to cope with increasing demand and additional pressures.

Poor workforce planning means we don't have enough nurses while huge problems exist in the GP service, which patients will be well aware of.

Meanwhile, the waiting lists are growing by the day.

According to the latest figures released yesterday, more than 306,000 people are waiting to see a consultant for a first appointment, an all-time high for Northern Ireland and eight per cent more than this period last year.

More than a third of patients - 108,582 - have been waiting more than a year for their first appointment, which is also a figure that is on the rise.

It will come as no surprise that these dreadful delays are in breach of health service targets. So bad are the figures that they render the targets largely meaningless.

During this election we are hearing about concern over waiting times in England but the fact is that Northern Ireland is in a far worse position.

It is completely unacceptable that patients in the north are having to wait much longer for treatment than their counterparts in Britain and the fear is that we will continue to fall further behind in a number of key specialties.

The Department of Health has apologised again for our waiting times, adding that the solutions are 'extremely challenging.'

''They require sustained investment to address backlogs and build our workforce, as well as the radical reshaping of services,'' the department said in a statement.

Clearly, we cannot go on as we are but the question is when are we going to get an executive prepared to take the tough decisions?

Secretary of state Julian Smith has announced that fresh talks to restore Stormont will begin on December 16, saying that unless agreement is reached by January 13, assembly elections will be triggered.

Patients who are in pain, who have no idea when they will be treated, deserve better than what we have now.

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