Northern Ireland health crisis: 'I'm in constant pain and the stress of the wait is taking its toll'
Ciara Aulds: Faces a three-year wait for a procedure for endometriosis. South Eastern Trust
Ciara Aulds, from Castlewellan, Co Down, is waiting for a procedure that she hopes will alleviate the daily pain she suffers from endometriosis.
She had keyhole surgery for the condition five years ago, which helped greatly, but over the last year, the pain has returned "with a vengeance".
"It's been excruciating," says Ciara, a mum-of-three.
"I've been off work since October because I just couldn't function with the pain. I'm a senior support worker for young adults with mental health and learning difficulties, and I absolutely love my job, so that in itself is devastating. With a young family, we could do with the money, too."
Ciara (40) had an appointment with a consultant in Downe Hospital in July, and was told she would face a six-month wait for an endometrial abrasion, which she hopes will ease her pain.
"But I haven't had any confirmation yet of an appointment," she said. "I know there are people out there with all sorts of problems, but this really is quite debilitating. I'm on really heavy painkillers every day, and I'm taking antidepressants, too, because the impact of the condition, and the stress of the wait is taking its toll."
As well as the extreme pain she suffers almost constantly, Ciara suffers from fatigue and "endobelly", which sees her stomach bloat and become painful.
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"I used to get really bad symptoms particularly around the time of the month," she said. "But now the pain is almost constant. It's been so extreme recently that I've had to rush to the hospital for help."
Ciara has now been given an emergency appointment with her consultant next month, but she is uncertain about what comes next.
"This appointment is just a consultation, so hopefully I'll hear something soon," she said.
"But at this stage, I don't know if that appointment will be just some advice, whether I'll get a date for my procedure, or whether I'll find out it could be pushed back even more. I've been advised that even once I get it, if it doesn't work, I might need a hysterectomy. I've been told the wait for that is three years."
A South Eastern Trust spokesperson said: "Hopefully this patient's condition can be appropriately managed at her appointment with her consultant.
"It is regrettable that any patient has to wait longer than is clinically appropriate for assessment or treatment.
"We understand the distress and anxiety caused and can only apologise and assure this patient that reducing waiting times is a key priority for this trust.
"Waiting times have been building up since 2014 as a result of wider financial pressures facing the Health and Social Care system."