Little Connla's ongoing pain puts Northern Ireland waiting list crisis into sharp focus
A six-year-old girl has told of her agony after being left on the waiting list for vital dental treatment.
Connla Quinn, from Belfast, will be forced to endure another eight months before she gets her severe mouth abscesses removed.
She has already suffered from the condition for a year and her mother, Maria, has to drain the abscesses every day.
Connla told the BBC: "I'm aching and not good at all.
"I can't do work properly [in school] because I am that tired and I can't sleep at night.
"I'm really, really sore, I would just like them to put me to sleep to get my teeth out. I'd be happy because my abscesses would be away and there would be nothing wrong with me anymore."
Maria said that Connla's condition was leaving them both exhausted. She said: "To leave children in pain like that for so long. I don't know how someone can justify that."
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Trust apologised for the distress that Connla had experienced but said the high demand for child dental care was straining the system.
She said: "We appreciate that this can be a very difficult time for parents of children with dental problems and would like to apologise for any distress that has been caused to Connla and her parents whilst she is waiting for treatment.
"Although we are not able to discuss the full medical history of any patient we can advise that Connla has been placed on the emergency cancellation list by the Community Dental Service following her appointment earlier today [Wednesday]."
The spokeswoman added: "Currently the number of children being added to this waiting list exceeds capacity which influences the length of the waiting time.
"The trust is making every effort to shorten the current waiting time for routine dental extractions under GA for children at the Mater Hospital from its current expected waiting time of 12 months."
According to the spokeswoman urgent dental cases should be treated in six to eight weeks.
She added that the Belfast Trust is reviewing theatre utilisation, patient cancellation rates and commissioning a review team in order to speed up the waiting list.
Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said: "I wish to reiterate that tackling excessive waiting times is high on my agenda for delivering improvements in the health service. I want to assure patients and their families again that long waiting times are completely unacceptable to me and that I understand the worry and stress that people feel when they are waiting to hear when they will be seen."
Mrs O'Neill warned however that there were no quick fixes and that reform was needed across services in order to ensure lasting change.
She said: "I look forward to setting out my vision for Health and Social Care over the next number of weeks. The health service here will continue to do its utmost within the resources it has available to ensure that the clinical needs of patients are met, patient safety is maintained and patients do not wait any longer than they have to."