Incredible 373,000 people in Northern Ireland waiting for hospital appointment
One in five people in Northern Ireland is on a hospital waiting list, shocking new figures show.
A staggering 373,000 patients are currently in line for a first outpatient appointment, a diagnostic test or inpatient treatment at hospitals across the region.
Everyone needing an appointment should be seen within 18 weeks according to Government guidelines, but the number of people waiting for over four months has quadrupled from 20,000 to more than 80,000 in just a year,
Former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey has said that the whole health service is now in crisis. "The figures are absolutely appalling; things are getting worse, not better," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"This represents the current slap-happy, slap-dash management of the health service.
"It's a huge indictment on the way the Executive manages its money and it's a huge indictment on the way the Minster of Health and his department are managing the health service.
"This is clearly putting people's lives at risks and increasing the possibility of premature death because the system isn't getting in there quickly enough."
The shocking statistics show that 85,997 patients are now waiting over four months to see a specialist for the first time.
According to the Department of Health, the number of people now waiting more than nine weeks stands at 129,224 - a 22% increase on last year's figures.
The new statistics also reveal that 63,028 patients are now waiting up to six weeks, while those waiting between six and nine weeks equate to 20,192.
Government guidelines state that from April 2015 no patient should wait longer than 18 weeks, and at least 60% should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton said he was "disappointed" to see increases in the number of people facing waits.
"I continue to look to the Health and Social Care Board to work with Trusts to deliver on these targets," he said.
"I fully appreciate this will be challenging, especially within the constraints of the current financial position, particularly given the increasing number of referrals and necessary reduction in the use of the independent sector.
"Clearly the fact that Northern Ireland continues to lose £9.5m every month on account of the failure of Sinn Fein to live up to their commitments on implementing welfare reform is immensely frustrating, impacting on people's access to services and adversely affecting vulnerable people across our society."
Mr Hamilton said the finances available present significant challenges, and he stressed that work is ongoing with the trusts, HSC Board and other bodies to clarify the implications and develop balanced financial plans for 2015/16.
He added: "Maintaining the safety of services for patients and clients will remain a priority."
SDLP health spokesman Fearghal McKinney said the statistics were "shocking and unacceptable".
"This situation further underscores a failure of leadership in the Health Service and particularly, a failure to properly implement a strategy to deliver timely appointments and care," he added.
A spokesman for Sinn Fein said: "The Health Minister also has a responsibility to ensure that all that can be done to improve patient outcomes is being done."