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Twice as many on hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland as in England

One in seven people in Northern Ireland are on a waiting list for an outpatient appointment.

That’s the highest number in the UK and twice as many as in England, a new report has revealed.

Prof John Appleby, chief economist with the Nuffield Trust, which conducts the quarterly research, told the BBC that patients here are suffering because of political inaction.

He said: "There is no doubt that people are suffering. They wait too long, they are in pain, they may die on the waiting list when they needn't have to.

"The cost of not fixing the political problem, not fixing the management problem and so on, is that people are suffering."

Stating that he is “really shocked" by the figures, Prof Appleby continued. "It is totally unacceptable in a health system in Northern Ireland to have the sort of numbers waiting as long as they wait."

He noted that "one in seven of the entire Northern Ireland population", is currently on an outpatient waiting list, compared to one in fourteen in England. 

"None of the waiting list targets are being met at the moment," the professor commented. "There needs to be leadership from the top on this."

According to the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), more than 253,000 people were waiting for their first consultant-led outpatient on March 31, 2017, up by 2.8% (6,895) on the previous quarter, and an increase of 17.6% (37,942) on the figure for March, 2016.

While guidelines state that at least half of patients should be seen within nine weeks, 69.6% of patients have been waiting longer than nine weeks and one in five, 21%, have been waiting for a year or more.

More than 70,000 patients were awaiting admission to hospital on March 31,2017, up by 5.3% from last year. More than 9,600 patients have been waiting for a year or more.

In a statement, the HSCB said: "It is clear that the current model of delivering services is not sustainable given the continued increased demand.

"It is unacceptable, the statement continued, "that any patient has to wait longer than they should for assessment or treatment".

However, increased demand and financial pressures are making longer waiting times "inevitable."

Demand, fuelled by factors such as an ageing population, higher patient expectations, improvements in technology and a wider range of available procedures, "currently exceeds capacity" for both new outpatients and inpatient/daycase treatments.

"Due to financial pressures", the statement continued, the "HSC has been unable to undertake the previous volumes of additional activity to meet the gap between demand for services and funded capacity and as a result, waiting times have grown."

The HSCB welcomed the former Minister’s Elective Care Plan published in February this year. "The plan sets out a commitment to reduce the backlog of patients waiting for elective care, subject to the availability of funding, while continuing the longer term process to transform secondary, primary and community care services to meet current and future demand," the statement concluded.

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