87,000 are waiting for inpatient care in Northern Ireland
Almost 90,000 patients across Northern Ireland were waiting to be admitted to hospital for treatment at the end of March, new figures have revealed.
Statistics released by the Department of Health (DoH) show that, as of March 31, a total of 87,450 patients were waiting to be admitted for inpatient or day case treatment.
Ministerial targets state that 55% of patients should wait no longer than 13 weeks for treatment, with no one waiting longer than 52 weeks.
As of March 31, however, 65% (56,871) of patients were waiting longer than 13 weeks and more than a quarter (22,350) missed the 52-week target.
In a statement, a DoH spokesperson said the causes of Northern Ireland's "serious waiting list backlog" have been well documented. "Waiting times have been escalating since 2014, as pressures on the health budget meant limited funding was available to suppress waiting time growth," they said.
"Significant and sustained investment will be needed to address the backlog.
"In addition, longer term transformation reforms will be vital to make sure the problem does not recur.
"Transformation is underway and will undoubtedly involve some difficult decisions. Consolidating some hospital services in regional centres of excellence will improve capacity and help the health and social care system keep up with growing demand."
Last month, the DoH permanent secretary, Richard Pengelly, warned that up to £1bn would be needed to eradicate waiting lists in Northern Ireland.
"We were very clear at the launch of the transformation strategy two-and-a-half years ago that it will not eradicate waiting lists," he told the BBC.
"The only way we will do that is by a very large injection of cash that we would estimate at somewhere between £700m and £1bn."
Mr Pengelly also insisted the healthcare system is facing "irreversible collapse" without reforms.