Northern Ireland people 'dying on waiting lists due to political inaction'
One in seven people in Northern Ireland are on a waiting list for an outpatient appointment - and some are dying needlessly before they see a doctor.
Prof John Appleby, chief economist with the Nuffield Trust, told the BBC that patients here are suffering because of political inaction.
He said: "There is no doubt that people are suffering. They wait too long, they are in pain, they may die on the waiting list when they needn't have to.
"The cost of not fixing the political problem, not fixing the management problem and so on, is that people are suffering."
Northern Ireland's waiting list is the worst in the UK, according to the Nuffield Trust.
Prof Appleby noted that "one in seven of the entire Northern Ireland population" is currently on an outpatient waiting list, compared to one in 14 in England. "None of the waiting list targets are being met at the moment. There needs to be leadership from the top on this," he said.
According to the latest figures from the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB), more than 253,000 people were waiting for their first consultant-led outpatient appointment on March 31, 2017, up by 2.8% (6,895) on the previous quarter, and up 17.6% (37,942) on the figure for March, 2016.
Guidelines state that at least half of patients should be seen within nine weeks, but 69.6% of patients have been waiting longer, and one in five (21%) have been waiting for a year or more.
More than 70,000 patients were awaiting admission to hospital on March 31, 2017, up by 5.3% from last year.
More than 9,600 patients have been waiting for a year or more.
In a statement, the HSCB said: "It is clear that the current model of delivering services is not sustainable given the continued increased demand. It is unacceptable that any patient has to wait longer than they should for assessment or treatment."
However, increased demand and financial pressures made longer waiting times "inevitable", it continued. Demand, fuelled by factors such as an ageing population, higher patient expectations, improvements in technology and a wider range of available procedures, "currently exceeds capacity" for both new outpatients and inpatient/day case treatments.
"Due to financial pressures, Health and Social Care Northern Ireland (HSC) has been unable to undertake the previous volumes of additional activity to meet the gap between demand for services and funded capacity and as a result, waiting times have grown," the board added.