People pay thousands for private medical treatment
People waiting for NHS treatment for painful and debilitating conditions are paying up to £10,000 for private treatment just so they can ease their suffering, it was claimed today.
The chief executive of Kingsbridge Private Hospital in south Belfast said they have seen a 20% rise in the number of people coming to them for consultations, diagnostic tests and surgical procedures in the last nine months.
Mark Regan said an increasing number of people are covering the cost of operations and other treatments themselves just so they can return to work.
"We are developing a two-tier health system where those who can pay are getting their treatments and those who can't just have to suffer," he said.
"There are now in the region of 200,000 people in Northern Ireland waiting for a first outpatient appointment, which is the largest number of people waiting in almost 20 years."
It is the latest damning indictment of the growing NHS waiting list scandal in Northern Ireland - highlighting the disparity in care here compared to England.
Mr Regan added: "We have absolutely seen an increase in the number of people coming to us.
"In particular, we are seeing people who have conditions that mean they are in pain, orthopaedics in particular, so things like knee and hip operations.
"There has been a 23% increase in the number of people looking for orthopaedic treatments in the last nine or 10 months.
"These are the people who just can't wait so they are using their own money to pay for treatment, there are people who are paying for treatment so they are well enough to get back to work.
"Prices range anywhere from several hundred pounds up to £10,000 for a hip replacement."
The independent sector has helped relieve pressure on hard-pressed health service resources, with the NHS paying private hospitals in Northern Ireland to treat their patients.
However, the Health & Social Care suspended the use of the independent sector in July last year as the health service slipped deeper into financial crisis.
As a result, waiting times for first outpatient appointments have spiralled out of control as NHS hospital staff have struggled to cope with demand.
Some work that had been scheduled to be done at private clinics before the suspension in July last year is due to resume this week - with the beginning of the new financial year.