Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Hospital scandal is a wake-up call

The treatment - or rather lack of it - endured by 52-year-old Janice Bell when she turned up at hospital was shameful.

The woman is suffering from inoperable cancer, yet, according to her account, spent nine hours on a trolley while waiting to be treated. No patient, and certainly not one with such a serious condition, should be subjected to such a delay. She also said that she was put in a ward which had no cancer specialists on duty and that other doctors were unwilling to treat her condition.

We publish her story on the same day that it is revealed that 52,000 outpatients have had to wait for more than nine weeks for a first appointment to see a doctor. The figure is 11 times higher than a year ago. A senior health official claimed that seven out of 10 people are seen within the target period of nine weeks and argued that the problem must be seen in perspective.

What he must realise is that every patient - no matter the relative seriousness of their condition - expects to be treated swiftly and effectively. That, we are repeatedly told, is also the objective of the health authorities, who place so much emphasis on setting targets and achieving patient throughput in hospitals. When the service falls below the expected performance, then patients, quite rightly, have cause for complaint.

Of course, the vast majority of people seen by health professionals are treated well and effectively.

But there are occasions - such as the case of Janice Bell or the people who have to wait overly long to see a specialist - when the NHS service falls well short of that standard.

The worry is that funding will become more restricted in the coming years as the public spending cuts bite and that standards will fall as pressure mounts on an under-resourced health service.

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