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Patients face longer waiting lists due to cuts

By Lisa Smyth

Delayed cancer diagnoses and massive waits for operations and specialist drugs are the future of healthcare in the north west.

The full scale of the savage cuts to the health budget can be laid bare today as the Belfast Telegraph reveals a future of misery for patients in the Western Health & Social Care Trust area.

Cash-strapped bosses have admitted they will fail to meet a range of Government targets laid out to ensure patient safety and minimise suffering for some of the most vulnerable people in society. Internal documents drawn up by the Western Trust — seen by the Belfast Telegraph — reveal patients are waiting up to a year for basic healthcare and social service provision.

Dr Tom Black, deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland GP committee, said: “Waiting lists are getting longer, access to services is becoming more difficult and patients are waiting much longer for inpatient and outpatient treatment.

“It’s not acceptable but there will be difficult decisions ahead and we need to prioritise what services we can afford to deliver.”

The Western Trust draft delivery plan warned: “2011/12 presents the trust with its most severe financial challenge to date.

“While robust mechanisms have been put in place within the trust to ensure delivery of the financial plan, these will present a significant challenge to the trust.”

Bosses at the trust were unable to give a guarantee they will break even in the coming financial year.

They also said they do not believe they will meet the target for flu vaccination of healthcare staff.

Dr Black said: “This is extremely important to keep the service up and running should we have a flu outbreak.”

The document reveals waiting times for community care packages are also slipping — resulting in elderly and vulnerable people facing lengthy waits for the vital care they need.

It said the 22-week target for lifts and ceiling tracking hoists “is not achievable as the budget will be depleted at October 2011”.

It added: “It is estimated that there will be 75 people at March 31, 2012, waiting for lifts/ceiling track hoists. The longest waiter will be 28 weeks.”

One person has been waiting more than 12 months for a community care package.

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