Belfast Telegraph

No 'block' on Northern Ireland patient transfers to GB, say health officials


Health officials say there is no block on sending patients to GB for treatment.
Health officials say there is no block on sending patients to GB for treatment.
Chairman of the Northern Ireland BMA Council Tom Black (BMA Northern Ireland/PA)
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

The Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has rejected a claim doctors are "blocked" from transferring patients to GB for treatment to avoid waiting in Northern Ireland for the procedure providing they meet the correct criteria.

Dr Tom Black, head of the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland, claimed he was told he could not move patients to other parts of the UK but could organise treatment in places such as Lithuania.

He made the comments on the BBC Stephen Nolan show on Monday morning.

He said patients may be requesting treatment in GB because they knew there was no waiting list and they may have family that can look after them. He said requests were refused because the service was available in Northern Ireland.

"The fact you might have to wait eight, nine or 10 years to get your hip done and you'll be long dead seems to be beside the point," he said.

However, the HSCB said there was "no block" on sending patients to GB for treatment.

"In short, doctors are not blocked from sending patients to GB for treatment," it said in a statement.

It said the most frequently requested transfer was for a service not available in Northern Ireland.

Asked if doctors had been told they could not transfer patients to other parts of the UK, a spokeswoman added: "The Health and Social Care Board is not blocking patients from being referred for specialist treatment in GB if they meet the required criteria."

The board highlighted how around 5,500 people were approved for specialist treatment outside Northern Ireland with 95% going to GB and costing £130m. It said millions had been pumped into the system to tackle the ever increasing local waiting lists. However, this had dropped each year from almost £100m in 2012/13 to £40m in 2019/20 while demand has increased.

"The HSCB fully recognises the challenges of very long waiting times in Northern Ireland and the distress and anxiety this causes to patients," a statement added.

"Our priority has always been to enable patients in Northern Ireland to be seen and treated here, where possible.

"To fully address waiting times, we need significant funding and long term transformation."

Health professionals have long warned about rising waiting times, blaming the worsening situation on a range of issues.

Northern Ireland's waiting lists have reached record levels with over 300,000 waiting to see a consultant. Thousands have been waiting over a year for procedures.

Around one in 16 people in Northern Ireland are on a waiting list, compared to one in 48,000 in England.

Surgeons have warned the local health system is on the bring of collapse. The Ulster Unionist party has called for immediate intervention from Westminster.

The HSCB statement continued: "Sending patients for treatment in GB obviously incurs costs to the NI health service.

"It therefore should not be presented as any kind of solution to our current waiting list problems. It is widely accepted that our waiting list problems are inextricably linked to funding pressures.

"Should the necessary investment be available to properly tackle the issues, then our priority will be to fund additional treatments in NI in the first instance."

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