MLA slams ‘unacceptable’ delays and calls for end to postcode lottery for surgery
Almost 3,000 people are waiting an average of more than two years for joint replacement surgery, according to new figures.
As of March 31, a total of 9,005 people were awaiting an average of 88 weeks for this type of operation. In the Western Trust area, the wait is 111 weeks for some 2,967 patients.
The average wait for joint replacement surgery in the Belfast Trust is 74 weeks for 4,302 patients, while in the Southern Trust area is is 86 weeks for 1,731 patients.
The lowest number of patients waiting, and the lowest average waiting time, was in the South Eastern Trust area, where just five patients were on the list, for an average of 40 weeks.
The Northern Trust area does not carry out orthopedic surgery.
In addition, there are thousands of patients waiting years for a first rheumatology outpatient appointment.
Alliance health spokeswoman Paula Bradshaw said: “As ever, this demonstrates the need to move on swiftly with transformation and specifically to move towards regionalisation of specialist services, so people in one part of Northern Ireland are not left waiting more than twice as long as people in another part.
“Clearly it is unacceptable anyone should face the trauma of waiting so long for essential public services such as joint replacements.
"I would continue to urge the Health Committee to move ahead with an inquiry into potential short-term interventions, alongside restated support for transformation of services to drive waiting times down.”
The SDLP’s Sinead Bradley added that the situation “just isn’t good enough”.
"Anyone developing a joint problem that requires surgery in that area will now go to the back of a 3,000 people queue with a guaranteed wait of years. That isn’t the standard of healthcare we should be delivering to our citizens,” she said.
“We seem to be having this conversation around waiting lists on a loop. While I accept the pandemic has impacted the ability to deliver services our waiting lists were huge long before the coronavirus hit.
"I am calling on the Department of Finance to work in tandem with the Department of Health to put pressure on the British Government and find the funding needed so that everyone in the North can access treatment in a timely manner and not spend years languishing on waiting lists with their health condition impacting their quality of life.”
Last month Health Minister Robin Swann unveiled a £700m plan to tackle our waiting list crisis.
The plan will see more regional surgical services set up, enhanced rates of pay for staff to help address waiting lists and reimbursement for those that get health care provided across the border in the short-term, among other initiatives.
In the longer term officials will look to bring in a seven-day working week for operations.
Announcing the new framework, Mr Swann said: “Our waiting times are the worst of any UK region.
"It is simply not acceptable to me that the people of Northern Ireland should receive a lower standard of care than in other parts of the UK.
“We have a health service that prides itself on being available to all, free at the point of access. But with the current scale of our waiting times we are creating a two-tier system. A system whereby those who can afford to pay privately receive diagnosis and treatment while those who cannot afford to pay languish on never ending waiting lists. It is abhorrent.
“There is little or no doubt that long waiting times will exacerbate, and perpetuate, existing health inequalities. This issue transcends politics — five ministers from three different parties have held the Health portfolio in this period — but it will require political will from all of the parties in the Executive to fix it.
“I view today as a staging post in the long struggle to turn our health service around. This crisis has been building up for years.
“There is a very heavy responsibility on all our shoulders. We must live up to it and deliver better public services.”