Senior doctor hits out at Northern Ireland's 'shocking and unfair' waiting times
One of the most senior doctors in the UK has spoken of his shock at hospital waiting times in Northern Ireland.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association, took the unusual step of publicly commenting on the crisis, which he described as "shocking" and "unfair to patients and loved ones".
Writing on Twitter, Dr Nagpaul noted that 120,201 people were waiting longer than one year for planned care in Northern Ireland, compared to 1,154 people in England and 4,176 in Wales.
"Northern Ireland: 3% of the UK population but 96% of all UK patients waiting over a year for treatment," he added.
His intervention came after Dr John O'Kelly, the former chair of the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland, said he was "beyond frustration and anger" at the situation.
He also posted the latest waiting statistics for the Western Trust, which highlighted lengthy delays for outpatient and inpatient treatment.
According to the trust document, the longest wait for a new consultant-led outpatient appointment in general surgery at the end of September was 252 weeks.
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The longest wait for inpatient or daycase treatment in general surgery at the end of September was 256 weeks.
This means some patients could be waiting 508 weeks, or 10 years, for the likes of gall bladder surgery.
The longest wait for a first outpatient appointment in orthopaedics at the end of September stood at 278 weeks.
The longest wait for an inpatient appointment, meanwhile, was 249 weeks.
This means patients could be waiting at least 527 weeks for surgery from the time they were referred by their GP.
Cardiology was also struggling to cope with demand, with the longest wait for a first outpatient appointment at the end of September standing at 62 weeks.
The longest wait for inpatient or daycase treatment in cardiology on September 30 was 37 weeks.
The waits may actually be even longer because the statistics do not include the waits for diagnostic tests, such as MRI scans or X-rays.
"How have we managed to accept this?" Dr O'Kelly asked. "I am beyond frustration and anger. Reflects total dysfunction in our political and health system in Northern Ireland."
While Dr O'Kelly was referring specifically to wait times in the Western Trust, every local health trust is struggling to meet demand and the quality of patients' experiences has been declining.
It recently emerged that, for the first time on record, there were more than 300,000 people in Northern Ireland waiting for a first outpatient appointment at the end of September.
According to Health and Social Care Board statistics, the number of people waiting longer than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment rose by more than 3,000 between June and September.
Health professionals have long warned about rising waiting times, blaming the worsening situation on a range of issues.
These include underfunding of the health service, a lack of nursing staff, an increase in demand and a cut in the number of beds.
The ongoing row over doctors' pensions has also been blamed for causing increased waiting times as doctors cut back on the number of hours of overtime they work.
The Western Trust was contacted for a response to the waiting time statistics.