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Waiting times for surgery will get much longer, reveals health chief

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 24/07/2015

HSCB boss Valerie Watts
HSCB boss Valerie Watts

Surgery waiting times for Northern Ireland patients are set to get "significantly worse" over the next year, the head of the Health and Social Care Board has revealed.

Last night a HSCB spokesman identified that the specialities that would be particularly affected would be orthopaedics, ear, nose and throat, general surgery, ophthalmology, urology and neurology - all of which are major NHS treatment areas.

It added: "Demand of elective care services currently exceeds capacity by in the region of 80,000 outpatient appointments and 25,000 inpatient and day case procedures. Without additional funding required to undertake this volume of additional capacity, waiting times will increase across a wide range of specialities in all trusts."

HSCB chief Valerie Watts' prediction of what was to come was confirmed last night by the Department of Health as it waits to learn whether it would get all of the £89m that it applied for in the June monitoring round at Stormont.

A spokesman said that the money would be spent across a number of areas "to fund existing service pressures, elective care, Transforming Your Care and prioritised service developments".

However, he warned: "As has previously been advised to the Assembly and the Stormont health committee, if the amount received is less than the bids made, the new service developments will not be able to be put in place and (as a result) waiting times will continue to increase."

Ms Watts apologised that some patients had to wait 18 months before seeing a consultant at the specialist Musgrave Park Hospital, but stressed that around half of all patients have surgery in less than three months and that three quarters have surgery within six months.

The HSCB also issued statistics yesterday which showed that, across the region, the numbers of patients waiting more than 26 weeks on the inpatient trauma and orthopaedic waiting list had increased to 4,674 in March 2015.

That was compared to 995 patients in March, 2015.

Ms Watts indicated in an interview on The Nolan Show on Radio Ulster that the increase in numbers was down to its budget allocation to tackle surgical waiting lists being cut over the past three years from £107m to £27m for the next year.

Actor and comedian John Linehan, who plays Northern Ireland's much loved pantomime dame May McFettridge, told the Belfast Telegraph that he had great sympathy for anyone who was waiting in pain for an operation on their back, hip or knee.

He opted to have a knee operation in March 2013 done privately as he could not face the crippling pain he was experiencing daily while waiting for an NHS operation schedule for another eight months.

"I can't imagine what pain those people must be going through waiting for their operation, it must be absolutely horrendous," said the 63-year-old.

"I feel so grateful that I had the capacity to pay for my operation but I honestly could not walk, sit, drive or do anything with the pain from my knee and I was really taking too many painkillers for the pain."

Ms Watts was not available for further media interviews following her interview on the Nolan Show yesterday, or for any other media outlet due to her "other diary commitments".

A spokesman said: "It is unfortunate that Valerie's diary would not have permitted this today."

Belfast Telegraph

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