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Health service complaints soar as Northern Ireland waiting lists growing longer

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 23/07/2015

John O’Hagan is facing a lengthy wait for back surgery
John O’Hagan is facing a lengthy wait for back surgery

Complaints about Northern Ireland's health service have surged by almost 40% in the past five years.

More than 7,000 issues were reported in the past 12 months - around 19 a day.

Most related to a patient's diagnosis, operation or treatment.

Poor patient experience was also flagged up in a significant number of complaints.

The Belfast Health Trust ­-Northern Ireland's biggest health trust - received the highest number of complaints.

The statistics were disclosed in a report published yesterday by the Department of Health.

Key findings include:

  • Some 5,154 complaints about 7,015 issues were reported across Northern Ireland in the 12 months to March 31 this year.
  • That is up 2.5% on last year, and 38.8% on 2010/11.
  • Quality of treatment and care was cited in 1,500 cases, while 1,112 cases concerned staff attitude or behaviour.
  • Around one in 10 (743) complaints related to issues with accident and emergency care.

Sinn Fein MLA Maeve McLaughlin, who chairs the Assembly's health committee, expressed concern at the statistics.

"The figures are concerning, particularly given the fact that the number of complaints has increased dramatically over the last number of years," she said.

"The number of complaints across all trusts is a cause for concern and I will be raising this issue with the minister.

"Complaints can point out shortcomings in the health service and help to identify solutions to make the health service better for everyone."

Issues around waiting lists were cited in 1,010 cases.

Yesterday it emerged there has been a 75% rise in patients waiting for appointments at Musgrave Park Hospital in the last two years.

Back surgery patients have been worst affected and can expect to wait 18 months for an appointment, according to documents obtained by the BBC.

Waiting times for knee and hip appointments are more than one year.

Among those affected is John O'Hagan (75) from Co Antrim. After suffering serious back pain he was referred to a specialist at Musgrave in June 2014 for surgery.

However, Mr O'Hagan has been told it could be February 2016 before he gets to see a specialist.

He told the BBC the pain was often too much to cope with.

"I know they want me to go private - but I don't have that money," Mr O'Hagan said.

"I worked for 50 years, I worked hard driving lorries through the bad times through the Troubles... I paid my dues, I shouldn't have to pay for this after all these years."

The Belfast Health Trust said there had been an increase in demand for services, but additional funding had not been made available.

However, former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said the health service had passed the point of risking patient safety. He said there was a diminishing quality of care for many patients.

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