One in five Northern Ireland patients wait over a year for treatment
Almost one in five patients in Northern Ireland is waiting more than a year for treatment.
A total of 14,979 people (19.1%) were left waiting more than 12 months for either an inpatient or day case admission as of December 31, compared with 12% (8,470 patients) 12 months previously.
The details emerge in a new report by the Department of Health looking at waiting times in Northern Ireland.
It covers the period from October to December - taking in the Christmas and New Year period - and compares the figures to the same three-month period in 2016.
The report also shows that as of December 31:
- A total of 271,553 patients were waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment - 10.3% more than at December 31 2016 (246,198).
- Almost 30% of patients here (80,651) have waited over a year for their first consultant-led outpatient appointment, compared to 47,072 (19.1) a year ago;
- A total of 78,440 patients were waiting for admission to hospital - 10.8% more than a year ago (70,782).
- 112,342 patients were waiting for a diagnostic test - 6.7% more than a year ago (105,302).
The current target of having all urgent diagnostic tests reported on within two days of the test being undertaken is also being missed - 86.2% were reported on in that time in the final quarter of last year.
Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager for Northern Ireland Margaret Carr called the wait for diagnostic services, which includes tests for cancer patients, "unacceptable."
She said: "This situation will be causing huge anxiety to those waiting to find out if they do or don't have cancer.
"Northern Ireland must join the other UK governments in committing to a cancer strategy. We are the only part of the UK without one."
Susan Hill, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, called the waiting times for surgery "completely unacceptable" and said they were causing patients' health to deteriorate.
UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs called the wait for first appointments with a consultant "shocking and outrageous".
"For too long the health service in Northern Ireland has been paralysed by the inability to form a government, with no Health Minister or agreed budget," he said.
"We urge all stakeholders to come together to find an agreed way forward to allocate funds and allow the much needed elective care plan, as well as the associated reforms, to be implemented as soon as possible."
Sinn Fein's Health spokesperson Pat Sheehan said growing waiting lists were "not acceptable" and "need to be tackled through sufficiently funded transformation".
The Health and Social Care Board admitted waiting times for many patients "continue to be unacceptable".
It said factors including a growing older population, increased demand for services and new specialist treatments meant there "simply isn't either the money or required staffing levels to sustain the current model of care".