Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland public will get a say on health spending

Department’s vow as one in six people are on waiting list

The target states that at least half of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first appointment, with no patient waiting longer than a year (stock photo)
The target states that at least half of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first appointment, with no patient waiting longer than a year (stock photo)

By Mairead Holland

The public will be given a say in how health services are funded amid ongoing problems caused by "significant" financial pressures.

The revelation comes as statistics from the Department of Health reveal that one in six people in Northern Ireland is on a waiting list, and figures are getting worse.

With competing demands for extra spending across different parts of the system, the department is to ask members of the public where their priorities lie for funding.

A spokesperson said: "The department is examining options to facilitate public engagement on budgetary choices. The health service belongs to us all and everyone has a stake in decisions on funding priorities and making the best use of limited resources."

Figures for the quarter to June 30 this year show that a total of 299,436 patients were waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment - 10,682 more than in March and 23,552 more than the same time last year.

The target states that at least half of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first appointment, with no patient waiting longer than a year.

However, the figures reveal that almost three quarters (74.9%) of patients were waiting more than nine weeks and more than a third (35.2%) were waiting more than a year.

The numbers waiting for inpatient and day case admission also rose, with a total of 88,203 patients waiting for admission to hospital, 5.3% more than last year.

Yet again, targets are not being met, with 66.7% of patients waiting more than 13 weeks - the target is 55% - and 27.2% waiting more than 52 weeks - the target is that no patient should wait this length of time.

There has also been criticism of the numbers waiting for diagnostic services, with Cancer Research UK labelling it "unacceptable" that so many people are waiting longer than nine weeks for a test that could diagnose cancer.

Only 47.3% of patients had diagnostic tests within nine weeks of referral, well below the target of 75%.

Guidance states that no patient should wait longer than 26 weeks, but a quarter (25.6%) were waiting for this period.

Margaret Carr, the charity's public affairs manager in Northern Ireland, said: "Recent research has shown there's a high vacancy rate of specialist staff and this is a key reason for delays in diagnostic services.

"Radiology has been identified as an area with particularly high staff shortages.

"Urgent action is needed, so that more patients are diagnosed earlier, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

"Long-term strategies are also needed to ensure these issues do not continue."

The Department of Health warned in February, when its budget was announced, that the money was not enough to meet the costs forecast in the coming year.

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