Belfast Telegraph

Call over hospital appointments

Consultants were unavailable for almost 50,000 hospital appointments in Northern Ireland last year, it has been revealed.

During the 2009/10 financial year there were 49,838 cases where the consultant was unavailable and a further 28,176 cases where the consultant cancelled the appointment, Department of Health figures showed.

There were another 11,498 cases of administrative error by the hospital or GP, they also indicated.

A total of 1.5 million patients were seen at consultant-led services within hospitals in Northern Ireland. This was a decrease of 20,869 (-1.3%) on the previous year.

Sean Brown from corporate services at lobby group the Patient and Client Council said the matter of consultants being unavailable had been raised repeatedly with the authorities.

"Whenever any of us access health and social care services patients are vulnerable and we need to be mindful of that when an appointment is cancelled," he said.

"From the patients' point of view and that of the carers and their families it can be distressing.

"There needs to be more clarity around why appointments are cancelled."

He said service providers needed to prioritise meeting their patients.

"There is a responsibility on patients as well to ensure they present for appointments but it is also down to the services to do better," he added.

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