THE number of patients having to wait weeks for hospital appointments and surgery has risen sharply across Northern Ireland – with many health trusts failing ministerial targets, new figures have revealed.
Within a four-month period, thousands more patients were added to waiting lists for a first outpatient appointment, medical tests or operations.
Among the latest statistics published by the Department of Health it showed that since the end of March until June:
- More than 2,000 extra patients were waiting more than 13 weeks for surgery since March – a jump to 16,887.
- A 14% rise in the total number of people waiting for a first outpatient appointment at the end of June 2013.
- 12,668 more patients waiting longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment since the end of March.
- And at the end of June 2013, 1,241 patients were waiting over nine weeks for 'diagnostic' services (examination, test or procedure).
This was an increase of 546 since the end of March 2013.
It also showed that 72% of patients were waiting less than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment and 66% of patients were waiting less than 13 weeks for treatment. However, not one of the five health trusts met the ministerial diagnostic waiting time target set by Health Minister Edwin Poots.
It said that from April 2013 no patient should wait longer than nine weeks for a test.
Both the Belfast and Northern Trust also failed to reach the target for outpatient waiting times – stating at least 70% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment.
Health and Social Care Board (HSC) chief executive John Compton said it was "regrettable" some patients have to wait longer than they should for assessment and treatment.
Mr Compton said additional funding has been allocated by the board where this is needed to meet increased demand.
Alliance's Kieran McCarthy, a member of the Stormont health committee, said: "Why have these figures risen in four months? I would like to know – as I'm sure the people waiting weeks for their appointment would, too."
Jim Wells, deputy chairman of the health committee, said the figures showed an increasing demand on services.
Health Minister Mr Poots said he continued to "require further improvement", adding that the HSC is working hard to meet this year's targets.
June 2013 NI Waiting List statistics releases revealed:
- Number of people waiting for a first outpatient appointment at the end of June 2013 was 113,744. A jump of 14% since the end of March.
- Number of people waiting longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment by end of June 2013: 32,432– a 12,668 increase since March.
- The number of patients waiting over 13 weeks for surgery has increased by 2,011 since March to 16,887.
- New target: By March 2014, 80% of patients wait no more than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, or 13 weeks for inpatient or day case treatment.