Shock figures reveal 109,000 people waited too long for hospital date in Northern Ireland
The number of people waiting more than four months for a first outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland has soared by almost 1,500% in three years, shocking new figures reveal.
In September 2013, 6,923 people across the province were faced with an anxious wait longer than 18 weeks for a test or consultation.
By 2015 this rocketed to a staggering 109,288.
The escalating crisis over waiting lists has been an ongoing concern for some time.
But the new figures show a detailed breakdown of how the health service is continuing to miss Government targets in each hospital across the five health trusts.
Ministerial targets suggest no one should wait for more than 18 weeks for a first appointment.
Almost 10 times the number of people in the Belfast Trust are waiting too long, compared to three years ago.
In 2013, more than 5,000 people were waiting more than the maximum government target.
But within two years this had soared to 48,190.
The figures emerged in an answer to an Assembly question to the Health Minister.
It was tabled last October and finally published this week.
Across the Belfast Trust there were 5,156 people waiting for a test, consultation or treatment in September 2013.
But 12 months later this rose to 23,252.
And by September 2015 it had more than doubled again to 48,190.
In the west of the province the trend was the same.
At Altnagelvin, there were 412 on the list in 2013 but this grew to 6,731 last September.
At the Ulster Hospital it also jumped from just 60 people to 16,730 in the same period.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton said he planned to use £40m given to his department in the latest reallocation of funds to tackle waiting lists. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health described it as "the start of a long journey to get waiting times back to an acceptable position".
Former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey described the current situation as "bleak".
"You will see a slight improvement in A&E times and diagnostics - but this will be short-term as that is where the £40m will be focused," he said. "It is a sticking plaster approach."
The UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson, a member of the Stormont Health Committee, said that each of the 109,000 people waiting longer than 18 weeks have been "badly failed and totally let down by the Health Minister".
"Among all those people that have been lingering on the list there will have been many anxiously awaiting a further test or consultation, as well as many others in pain and discomfort awaiting treatment," she added.
"These include people who are desperately awaiting orthopaedic surgery."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The Minister has said it is extremely frustrating that £9.5m was being lost back to Westminster from Northern Ireland's public finances every month as a result of welfare reform being blocked.
"Such a sum could have funded many thousands of assessments and procedures.
"The additional funding of £40m, secured as part of November monitoring, will go directly towards tackling waiting lists to allow up to 40,000 additional assessments and between 10,000 and 15,000 additional operations to be progressed over and above ongoing regular Trust activity.
"This is the start of a long journey to get waiting times back to an acceptable position and will need further funding to ensure success, but we are heading in the right direction."