Royal College of Surgeons warns Northern Ireland health service headed for 'catastrophe'
The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) says Northern Ireland's health service is facing catastrophe - and warned that the current political instability is undermining efforts to reduce unacceptably long waits.
In a briefing paper published yesterday, the RCS says the situation is so bad that patients' lives are being put at risk, and could result in an increase in disease and preventable deaths.
Overall patient waiting times from referral to treatment in Northern Ireland are far longer than anywhere else in the UK, according to the RCS.
There were 64,074 patients waiting longer than a year for an outpatient appointment and 11,261 were waiting longer than a year for in-patient or day case treatment as of June 30, 2017.
In comparison, 1,544 patients were waiting more than a year for treatment in England in June 2017.
The RCS called for the restoration of the Assembly so funds can be injected urgently into the health service.
Susan Hill, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said yesterday: "The waits patients are having to endure for treatment in Northern Ireland are frankly shocking and suggest the health service is failing.
"If the health service in Northern Ireland is to avoid catastrophe it is vital the Northern Ireland Assembly returns and this funding, as well as the extra funding agreed by Westminster in the DUP/Conservative 'confidence and supply' agreement is brought forward, through whatever channels are available, coupled with funding to support the implementation of the agreed health reforms.
"The health service, and more importantly patients, cannot wait any longer."
The target for outpatient appointments here is for half of patients not to wait longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, with no patient waiting longer than 52 weeks by March 2018.
DUP health spokeswoman Paula Bradley MLA last night warned of political "drift". She said: "These figures are the latest example of how our health service needs to have leadership and direction at ministerial level.
"These are truly life and death issues and should be the issues all parties put as their top priority.
"There is cross-party agreement on the need for reform of the health service but without a minister in place there will only be continued drift and worsening outcomes for patients.
"The DUP secured extra investment from Westminster for our front line services, particularly to assist with long-term reforms which are vital for the health service.
"We want to see that money being used to benefit the public as soon as possible."
Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has set a deadline of November 6 for a new Stormont Executive to be formed.