Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland health service waiting times 'worst in UK'

Waiting times for the Northern Ireland public are the worst in the UK, a major BBC investigation has found.

The BBC has, for the first time, compiled and compared like-for-like statistics on the state of the national health service in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It found Northern Ireland hasn't hit health target for cancer care and emergency treatment for almost 10 years - since 2008. While the target for almost all emergency department patients to be seen within four hours has never been met.

Waiting times in Northern Ireland, the broadcaster found, were continuing to deteriorate statistics showed.

The Health and Social Care Board accepted the figures were not good enough and called for investment and reform.

It comes at a times pressure on health budgets is increasing and Northern Ireland trusts are considering cost cutting measures to continue to be sustainable.

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Speaking to the BBC's Stephen Nolan show, Dr George O'Neill said health officials and the public both had a role to play in improving the service.

"We are all patients," he said, "there is not a separate species of patient out there."

The medic said the situation was "complicated" and there was a need for leadership through the system and from government.

He said the finding that 69% of patients "red flagged" by their GP as needing to see as cancer specialist was "unacceptable" but there was still a lot of people seen within the target time.

Primary care has not changed in 100 years, but the demography has changed and expectations have changed.

"We have to address that," he continued, "We are short on oncologists and diagnostic equipment and that has to be addressed.

He emphasised a need for a societal change in order to improve health service performance for all in Northern Ireland.

"There is a culture of having system that works for us, rather than asking what we can do for it. Bengoa was about personalising health care and we should look at what we can do.

"Waiting times are important... but on the other side of the coin there is good things happening. But there are things that could improve and we could do better. "

One example the doctor sited was people showing up at emergency departments when they did not require emergency treatment.

"People want immediate responses to whatever their problem is - and we have to address that.

"Primary care has not changed in 100 years, but the demography has changed and expectations have changed and we must address that.

"There is a role for everyone, there is a role for the people at the top and a role for those needing care."

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