Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson warns of health service's 'abhorrent situation'
Northern Ireland's health service is in an "abhorrent" state with more than a quarter of a million people waiting for an appointment to see a consultant, it has been warned.
Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson said the safety of patients is being compromised due to a failure to tackle soaring waiting lists.
Latest statistics from the health department show that waiting times for consultant-led appointments, inpatient, day case treatment and diagnostic services are continuing to increase, despite pledges to address the problem.
More than 240,000 patients are waiting for a first consultant-led appointment, a 4.6% increase on the previous year.
Almost 50,000 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.
"The latest publication of the quarterly waiting times statistics shows that the unprecedented crisis engulfing the Health Service in Northern Ireland is deepening," said Ms Dobson.
The Assembly candidate in Upper Bann added: "It is outrageous that there are over 246,000 patients waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment. More frightening however is the fact that over 47,000 of those have been waiting longer than a year.
"Amongst those waiting will be patients who are genuinely petrified and distressed about delays in their diagnosis, as well as many others in daily pain and discomfort awaiting treatment."
She accused health minister Michelle O'Neill of "abdicating her responsibilities" to patients. Ms O'Neill recently published a plan to help reduce the large number of patients waiting longer than a year for treatment.
However, due to the collapse of Stormont, no health budget has been set and therefore no money is available for the plan.
"Unfortunately now, with no functioning Executive and no genuine plan to tackle the crisis, waiting lists will continue to spiral and essential decisions will be further delayed," said Ms Dobson.
"Politics has been placed ahead of patients. That is an abhorrent situation."