Waiting list issue in need of review... again
It is a statistic that makes you wonder if you should get an eye test. Almost 400,000 people, more than one in five of the entire population of Northern Ireland, are on hospital waiting lists. That is an incredible situation which cannot be fully explained by higher levels or morbidity or even staffing shortages.
But the number of people waiting for inpatient or outpatient treatment or diagnostic tests is not the whole story. Even worse is the length of time some people have to wait before seeing a medical professional.
More than 30,000 have to wait more than a year for their first outpatient appointment and more than 3,000 endure similar waits for inpatient treatment. By the NHS's own standards that is an unacceptable delay.
Common sense dictates that the longer people wait for a diagnosis or treatment the greater the potential peril to their health and the greater the cost of treating them.
Every Health Minister at Stormont has voiced the same platitude; that long waiting lists and long waiting times are not acceptable, but none have yet come up with a sustainable solution, other than to ask for more money.
The NHS consumes approaching half of the entire budget given by the Treasury to run Northern Ireland and yet the public perception is of a deteriorating service. Why is that the case and why is it allowed to continue?
We know that there is a shortage of consultants across many specialities and hospitals. This has been widely publicised in recent times, as health trusts have had to pay out huge sums in overtime to many of those in the front line of treating patients. We also know that there is a shortage of nurses, resulting in the use of expensive agency staff to keep the wards functioning.
It would be wrong to criticise hospital staff, as even a casual visit to any hospital will show a service under enormous strain.
Yet there is obviously a systemic failing at the core of the NHS in Northern Ireland.
Of course, an ageing population will put a greater strain on health services, but many people hold the opinion that the NHS needs to work smarter and more efficiently to deal with the challenges facing it.
Our politicians are unwilling to take difficult - and unpopular - decisions, so perhaps we need yet another independent task force to carry out a root and branch review to point out how to rectify the deficiencies.