98,000 in Northern Ireland waiting over a year for first outpatient appointment
Almost 98,000 people were waiting longer than a year at the end of March for their first hospital appointment, it has emerged.
Latest Government statistics have highlighted the pain and misery being endured by tens of thousands of people who need treatment for a range of debilitating conditions.
They have revealed the number of patients waiting at least a year to see a consultant for the first time has risen by 17% over 12 months from 83,392 at the end of March last year to 97,851 at the end of March this year.
Meanwhile, the number of patients waiting longer than six months for a diagnostic test is also climbing.
In March last year there were 17,065 people waiting longer than 26 weeks for a diagnostic test.
This rose to 28,310 at the end of March this year.
Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Northern Ireland Dr Grainne Doran described the latest figures as "disappointing".
"We know that our health and social care system is under immense pressure, but it is not acceptable that almost 98,000 patients are waiting longer than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment," she said.
"There is no doubt that medical professionals working across Northern Ireland are doing what they can to provide care and services to patients, but the whole system is failing our population."
She said GPs are experiencing increasing pressure managing patients waiting years for hospital appointments.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council in Northern Ireland, said: "I know that my hospital colleagues are extremely frustrated by the current situation, and as a GP, it is very difficult when you have a patient in front of you in chronic pain, waiting on a hip replacement, and there is nothing you can do for them.
"We're seeing patients using their savings to go privately, there are a lot of other patients who can't afford to do this and by the time that they are seen they are too old and frail for the procedure."
The Department of Health said: "The department has repeatedly made clear that sustained investment is required to address the waiting list backlog.
"With budgets increasingly stretched just to maintain existing services, funding to suppress waiting time growth has been in limited supply.
"Alongside sustained investment, longer term action is also required to prevent the problem recurring."