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Elderly face a more than 48-hour wait for broken hip surgery

Elderly patients with fractured hips are waiting more than 48 hours for surgery at Northern Ireland’s hospitals, a new report has revealed.

Almost half of patients waited more than two days at the Royal Victoria Hospital, while a third faced similar delays at Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry.

It has led to calls from the chairman of the Stormont health committee for action to tackle the “totally unacceptable” situation.

The national hip fracture audit by the Royal College of Surgeons examined the performance of hospitals across the UK, and found large variations in access to surgery.

It revealed some hospitals managed to get 95% or more patients through surgery within 48 hours while others, including the Royal Victoria in Belfast, only managed about 55%.

At Altnagelvin Hospital, more than 30% of patients had not been through surgery within 48 hours.

The audit, which covers 129 hospitals in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands, said patients’ health could deteriorate while waiting for an operation.

South Down MLA Jim Wells said the delays had to be looked at.

“It is totally unacceptable that people are waiting more than two days for surgery,” he said.

“These people tend to be elderly — the vast majority are 60-plus — and it is wrong that they are left waiting in agony.

“The department needs to look at this issue and see what can be done to reduce delays.”

A spokesperson for the Belfast Trust said: “Although Belfast Trust is disappointed with the figures contained in this report, over the last three months 94% of hip fracture patients are having surgery, where clinically appropriate, within 48 hours.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Western Trust said: “The report on patients going for surgery does include patients who are medically unfit to go to theatre.

“More than 90% of those patients who are medically fit for surgery have their surgery within 48 hours.”

Across the UK, reasons for delays include waiting for space on an operating theatre list, not enough staff, waiting for beds and patients not being medically fit for surgery.

Access to bone-strengthening medication also varied widely, from 0% of patients in some hospitals to 100% in others.

At the RVH, 9.7% were provided with bone medication at admission, compared to 13.2% at Altnagelvin Hospital.

Rob Wakeman, a consultant orthopedic surgeon in Basildon, was lead clinician on the report and warned that hip fractures are threatening to overwhelm trauma and orthopedic units.

“It is the responsibility of clinicians and managers to work together to come up with solutions to improve patient care in their hospital,” he said.

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