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Northern Ireland hospital waiting lists 'spiralling out of control'

By Brett Campbell

More people are waiting longer for a hospital outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland, new figures show.

Almost three-quarters waited more than nine weeks while 12% waited over 52 weeks, statistics from the Department of Health showed.

The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) said the health service wasn't even close to achieving its targets.

"We cannot forget that behind these statistics are potentially very ill and anxious patients who are being made to wait too long for surgery. This is the true impact of waiting times spiralling out of control in Northern Ireland," the RCS said.

Statistics for the final quarter of 2016 show that 72.4% of patients - 178,279 people - waited more than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, well above the 50% target.

Some 19.1% of patients - 47,072 people - have been kept waiting for more than 52 weeks, despite a target of 0%.

More than 243,000 patients are waiting for a first consultant-led appointment, a 4.6% increase on the previous year.

Some 47,072 of those patients have been waiting more than a year. In addition, more than 70,000 patients are awaiting hospital treatment, with 8,479 waiting over 12 months.

More than 105,000 people are also waiting for diagnostic services. This is a 12% rise from the previous year.

Ulster Unionist health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson warned the health service now "faces a period of prolonged neglect" because of Sinn Fein's decision to collapse the Assembly.

A leading cancer charity also criticised the spiralling waiting times, particularly for diagnostic testing.

Despite a target stating 75% of patients are to be tested within nine weeks, 45,991 patients (43.7%) were kept waiting longer.

The Government target states that all patients waiting for the crucial tests should be seen within 26 weeks but 45,991 people (10.5%) were forced to wait longer.

Margaret Carr from Cancer Research UK said the statistics show demand is outstripping the ability to provide a reliable service.

DUP Assembly candidate Paula Bradley said: "Sinn Fein's time in the Department of Health has been one of inaction and failure."

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