Children waiting close to year to see heart consultant
Youngsters with potentially deadly heart conditions are waiting almost a year for a first appointment with a hospital doctor, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Health bosses at the Belfast Health & Social Care Trust have said the maximum waiting time for a routine appointment with a children's heart consultant is 44 weeks.
Waiting times for routine paediatric cardiology appointments are so long that some parents are choosing to pay for their children to be seen by a doctor at a private clinic because they are so desperate to know they are not at risk.
One mum, who did not want to be identified, said she was told her seven-year-old son could wait 42 weeks for an appointment with a paediatric cardiologist even though there was a family history of cardiomyopathy - a disease of the heart muscle and the leading medical cause of sudden death in the under 35s.
"We took him to A&E one night because he was having chest pains," she said.
"They didn't seem overly worried but said they wanted him to be seen by a paediatric cardiologist because of my family history so he was referred.
"We waited and waited for an appointment and when we didn't hear anything I rang up and was told the waiting time was 42 weeks."
The lengthy waits for paediatric cardiology appointments is the latest example of the catastrophic consequences of the financial crisis facing the health service. Waiting times have continued to spiral out of control as financial constraints mean health trusts are unable to meet demand on services.
As a result, more than 129,000 people had waited longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment at the end of June with predictions the figure is likely to rise further.
Health Minister Simon Hamilton has said no patient should wait longer than 18 weeks for a first outpatient appointment.
A leading children's charity has branded the delay in paediatric cardiology "unacceptable".
Sarah Quinlan, chief executive of the Children's Heartbeat Trust, said: "Waiting lists of nearly a year for outpatient appointments are unacceptable and cause unnecessary further distress to parents who are in the unenviable position of having neither a diagnosis nor receiving the all-clear.
"We are calling on the Health & Social Care Board to address the underlying issues, which include existing pressure on clinician's time and a shortage of support staff in various specialisms, and to reduce this unacceptable waiting time."
A Belfast Trust spokesman said it is currently organising additional capacity to help reduce waiting times.
He added: "All referrals are triaged so any child with which there is a high level of clinical concern will get an urgent appointment."
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman from the Health & Social Care Board, the organisation that commissions services, has said it made additional funding available to the Belfast Trust to recruit more staff, including an additional consultant paediatric cardiologist in an effort to drive down waiting times.