Stormont reduces waiting time targets - as health department faces pressure over growing waiting times
Stormont has shifted the goalposts of hospital waiting time targets it has emerged - as the health department continues to face pressure as new figures show a marked increase in waiting list times.
In 2014-15 the set target was that by April 2014 at least 80% of patients would not wait more than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, it has been reported.
However, now that has been significantly reduced to just half of patients.
It comes as quarterly statistics for September 2016 show a marked increase in waiting times across key areas of hospital care.
Michael Bloomfield from the Health and Social Care Board said this was an annual process to reassess goals.
He denied claims that the goalposts had been shifted "quietly".
He told the BBC Stephen Nolan show: "Every year the minister and department set out targets for the year.
"Sometimes that introduces new targets, sometimes that drops off other targets, what it does do each year is it reviews those targets and revises them if necessary to take into account the performance at the time.
"There is no point in continuing to have a target that is absolutely unrealistic and cannot be achieved, the public would understandably expect to receive service in line with those targets and there is no hope of doing it.
"It would also be demoralising for staff trying to work to targets that are totally unrealistic."
Stormont has been under increasing pressure to address the growing waiting list problem.
From the recent statistics stand-out figures include more than two thirds (167,250) of patients waiting more than nine weeks for outpatient appointments.
There were also concerns that 40,686 (39.9%) of patients expecting diagnostic tests waited over nine weeks.
Most of the figures are still some way off targets the Health Minister Michelle O'Neill has set for the next quarter in March 2017.
Dr Anne Carson, chair of the British Medical Association Northern Ireland consultants committee said chronic under-investment was to blame.
"Patients in Northern Ireland continue to wait an unacceptably long time to see a consultant," she said.
However, she went on to praise Ms O'Neill's vision for health as "a good start in addressing some of these problems".