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'Terrifying' Northern Ireland waiting times wouldn't be tolerated elsewhere: Steve Aiken


Steve Aiken

Politicians have described the waiting list crisis in Northern Ireland as "genuinely terrifying".

Ulster Unionist leader Steve Aiken said vital decisions must now be taken by Westminster and that "heads would roll" if it was the same elsewhere in the UK.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood accused the DUP and Sinn Fein of putting their "selfish political interests" ahead of the wellbeing of patients.

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart blamed the "unforgivable" delays on Sinn Fein for preventing a return of the Assembly.

Mr Aiken said: "Never before in the history of Northern Ireland have so many people been forced to wait, and to wait for so long."

He called the latest figures, that 134,160 patients are now waiting over 52 weeks, "genuinely terrifying", adding: "I really believe that if the waiting times being experienced here were occurring anywhere else in the United Kingdom it would be a national scandal and heads would roll.

"Yet, outrageously, in Northern Ireland the problem is spiralling month by month and there is nothing other than a passive acceptance at the top of the Health Department."

Another concern was NHS staff preparing to strike while workers on the same wards, employed by recruitment agencies, were getting paid more for fewer hours.

"That is why it has now reached the point that health powers need to be sent back to Westminster to allow key decisions to be taken - we simply no longer have any choice," he added.

Mr Eastwood said it was "deeply distressing" that patients here are more likely to wait over a year for care than their counterparts in Great Britain.

Ms Lockhart said waiting times of over 12 hours at Craigavon Area Hospital this week were "unacceptable".

In a statement the Department of Health said: "The Department's Permanent Secretary has publicly stated that funding of between £750m and £1bn is required to eradicate waiting lists.

"With the limited funding available the Department has brought forward aspects of the elective care plan with more treatments undertaken in primary care rather than the traditional hospital setting."

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