'Lives at risk' as more than 80,000 people wait over a year for outpatient appointment
Local outpatient waiting times are threatening to spiral out of control, politicians have claimed.
A bulletin released yesterday revealed that over 80,000 people had waited more than a year for their first outpatient appointment with a consultant.
The quarterly update covered the period up to March 31.
There was a slight drop in the total number of patients (269,834) waiting, compared to the 271,553 on the list in December last year.
But the Royal College of Surgeons said the number of people waiting more than a year equated to one in five patients.
According to government targets, 50% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for their first outpatient appointment, and no one should have to wait more than a year.
However, as of March 31, more than 30% of patients were in that position.
SDLP MLA Mark H Durkan said "spiralling" waiting lists indicated the system was no longer fit for purpose.
"Despite the dedication of hard-working staff, our health service is over-burdened, under-staffed and under-funded," Mr Durkan said.
"The health of our people is at risk. It is vital that the heath service is reformed, but this can only be done with a functioning Assembly and Executive."
UUP MLA Roy Beggs, meanwhile, branded the figures "frightening".
"With every passing day, the crisis in the local health service deepens," he said.
"While there were severe pressures two years ago, the situation today is wholly unrecognisable compared to then.
"It is scandalous that at the end of March there were more than 83,000 patients waiting for over a year for their first appointment with a consultant."
The figures also showed that 62.3% of patients, or 50,228, were waiting more than 13 weeks to be admitted for inpatient or day-case treatment.
For the same period, 20.4% of patients (16,454) waited more than a year for inpatient or day case treatment.
That was a rise of more than 7% on March last year, when 9,615 were in that position.
According to statistics on diagnostic services, which covers cancer testing, just under 45,900 patients (42.1%) waited longer than nine weeks for a test.
That was a drop of around 12,000 when compared to the 57,546 in that position in December last year.
The Department of Health's target is that 75% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test, with no one waiting more than 26 weeks.
Margaret Carr, from Cancer Research UK, called for "urgent action" to resolve waiting list problems.
And Susan Hill, from the Royal College of Surgeons, said the statistics showed "no respite for the deplorably long list of patients waiting for surgery".
"It is clear the service does not have the capacity to deliver the number of operations needed for new patients or to address this unacceptable backlog," Mrs Hill added.