Belfast Telegraph

Nearly 300,000 Northern Ireland patients waiting for outpatient appointment with consultant

Nearly 100,000 had to wait for over a year

by James Gant

Nearly 300,000 people in Northern Ireland were waiting for a consultant-led outpatient appointment in the three months until October, a new report has revealed.

The figures from the Department of Health - from June 30 to September 30 - found the total number of patients waiting for their first meeting was 283,497.

This had risen by 2.8% since the quarterly report in June and by 4% since September 2017’s results were revealed.

It includes privately funded patients waiting to be seen in Health Service hospitals.

A statement from the Health and Social Care Board said: "Patients have every right to expect and demand timely care. Unfortunately, for reasons that have been well documented, our system is not currently configured to provide that."

It added: "The only sustainable solution to this is transformation."

There were 212,985 outpatients who had to wait more than nine weeks for their first meeting with a consultant – rising from 203,478 in last September's quarterly findings.

On top of this, the number of outpatients who had waited over a year to see a consultant was more than a third, at 94,222.

This has risen from 88,598 in the June report and 73,380 last September – a 6% leap.

Ministers have set a target for at least 50% of outpatients to wait less than nine weeks for their first appointment and no one to wait more than a year by March 2019.

Ulster Unionist Health Spokesperson Roy Beggs MLA warned "the crisis in local hospital waiting times is compromising the safety of patients right across Northern Ireland".

He said: "The number of people who are waiting far longer than even the maximum permitted time is at an unprecedented and terrifyingly high level."

There was also a decrease in the number of outpatients who did have their first appointments in the time frame.

From June to September, only 116,469 patients were seen which showed a 6% downturn from the quarter ending on June 30.

Inpatient and day cases did not fare better.

The latest report revealed that as many as 86,219 inpatients or day cases were waiting for admission to hospital.

This was an increase of 3% since the June results and nearly 15% since last September’s statistics.

Nearly 67% had to wait longer than 13 weeks, up from 63% in June's report and 62.5% since last September's.

Diagnostic services – a test used to determine a person’s condition – showed the Department of Health have a lot to do to reach their target of 75% seen in under nine weeks.

The findings for the three months up to the end of September showed over half (51%) were still waiting more than nine weeks.

A positive note was the time it took for patients to receive results from tests.

Targets for March 2019 are for all results to be given to the patient within two days of an examination.

And the September results saw that 84% of urgent diagnostic reports were sent within this time frame.

Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager in Northern Ireland, said: “Waiting for a test after you’ve received an urgent referral for suspected cancer is a tough time for anyone, more so if your wait is very long.

“We would like to see a comprehensive audit of these services to pinpoint where problems exist, with a plan for improvement."

The Hospital Information Branch in the Department of Health collated the figures for the report.

They are gathered from HSC Trusts and the Health and Social Care Board on a quarterly basis.

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