Northern Ireland man (87) had to wait almost two years for surgery - trust issues apology
A Northern Ireland health trust has apologised after an 87-year-old man was told he would wait almost two years for hip surgery.
The case led to a watchdog expressing "grave concern" at "wholly unacceptable" waiting lists.
The NI Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) investigated after a complaint by the man's family, who said his treatment should have been prioritised.
While Marie Anderson felt the Belfast Health Trust's decision not to expedite the case was "reasonable and appropriate", she criticised the Trust for not letting the man's GP know about its decision.
She also raised concern about the general problems with waiting lists in the health system.
The Trust accepted improvement is needed in how it communicates with patients and apologised for the delay.
In his original complaint, the patient's son alleged that the Trust had ignored a recommendation from his father's GP that his surgery should be classed as urgent, not routine.
He also complained that the period between his father's first referral in November 2016 to expected surgery in June 2018, some 20 months, was an unreasonable length of time to wait.
The Trust said it was not uncommon for patients who are referred as an urgent case by their GP to be downgraded to routine once assessed by an orthopaedic specialist.
An independent expert, tasked to investigate by the Ombudsman, found the Trust's decision not to change the status was reasonable and appropriate.
Following this advice, and after assessing the criteria used by the Trust to assess patients for hip replacement, this element of the complaint was not upheld.
However, the Ombudsman did note a failure by the Trust to communicate with the patient.
She said public bodies are required to state the criteria for decision-making and give full reasons to clients for their decisions.
She concluded it would have been good medical practice to inform the GP about the consultant's decision, not least as "an act of professionalism and common courtesy".
Ms Anderson's report, published in recent days, states the patient was left with "uncertainty and frustration as to the status of his referral".
She recommended the Trust revise its practice to ensure GPs and patients are advised of the outcome of all referrals.
The Trust told the Ombudsman there was a very high demand for orthopaedic surgery. It apologised for the delay but said it was also required to ensure that all patients are seen and treated in chronological order.
A spokesman for the Trust said: "We sincerely apologise for the delay experienced by the patient. Belfast Trust has taken on board the comments by NIPSO in its report.
"We fully accept there is learning in terms of improving communications between the Trust, service users, and GPs."