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Northern Ireland hospital waits worst in UK, says leading doctor

By Lisa Smyth

One of the most senior doctors in the UK has launched a stinging attack on the health service in Northern Ireland.

Waiting times for hospital appointments here are the worst in the UK, according to the chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP committee.

Dr Laurence Buckman said he was disturbed patient safety is frequently compromised in Northern Ireland due to long waits. “This is very serious and the people from Northern Ireland need to know what is going on,” he said.

Dr Buckman interrupted proceedings at the annual conference of BMA (NI) to express his concern after listening to accounts of patient care from GPs working here. Current government targets state no patient should wait longer than 21 weeks for a first outpatient appointment.

However, an increasing number are waiting up to a year before they see a hospital doctor.

At the conference yesterday, in Newcastle, Co Down, GPs from across Northern Ireland voiced their frustration at waiting times.

And they said the treatment of some patients with suspected cancer is being delayed.

Dr Buckman said: “I find this very disturbing for two reasons.

“One is our own internal frustration; I hear these stories all over the UK but never as bad as over in Northern Ireland.

“My patients would never tolerate an eight-week wait for outpa

tients. Around England it would be unusual for people to wait more than 13 weeks for anything.

“People in this province don’t seem to be aware of how bad it is. The difference between waits here and the rest of the UK needs to be put on to the public agenda.”

At the conference, BMA (NI) also said GPs should be allowed to admit their patients to hospital without sending them to A&E.

Dr Brian Dunn (right), chair of the BMA (NI) GP committee, said: “It used to be that we would lift the phone and speak to the house officer and have a patient admitted directly to a ward.

“Then we had to phone bed managers and then the powers-that-be decided it would be much better to send our patients to A&E where they could be properly admitted by junior doctors.

“We need to take our patients out of A&E and allow GPs, who are experts at assessing who needs to be admitted to hospital, to make that call.

“There seems to be a belief among some people that unless you are in the College of Emergency Medicine you are not capable of dealing with anyone who is acutely ill.

“GPs can and they are experts.”

Story so far

The crisis affecting our A&Es is high on the public agenda and the Stormont health committee is due to visit the emergency department at the Royal Victoria Hospital today. The committee will inspect the facilities and meet staff and patients, following claims that patient safety has been compromised at the unit. The Assembly is also expected to discuss the issue today.

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