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Northern Ireland waiting list numbers soar as Health Service misses all its targets

 

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A leading cancer charity has described the growing number of people languishing on waiting lists in Northern Ireland as a "symptom of a Health Service hindered by a lack of direction".

A leading cancer charity has described the growing number of people languishing on waiting lists in Northern Ireland as a "symptom of a Health Service hindered by a lack of direction".

A leading cancer charity has described the growing number of people languishing on waiting lists in Northern Ireland as a "symptom of a Health Service hindered by a lack of direction".

A leading cancer charity has described the growing number of people languishing on waiting lists in Northern Ireland as a "symptom of a Health Service hindered by a lack of direction".

This comes as new statistics from the Department of Health show that every Ministerial waiting-list target was missed at the end of the second quarter of 2017.

The targets lay out where the Department of Health aim to have waiting list times by March 2018.

Speaking about the figures, Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager Margaret Carr said: "It’s worrying that people in Northern Ireland are still waiting too long for tests – a symptom of a Health Service hindered by lack of direction.

"Quick access to tests is a vital part of diagnosing cancer early, and some of these people might have cancer. Patients must be diagnosed and treated early if they are to have the best chance of surviving cancer."

The Ministerial target for diagnostic tests is for 75% of patients to be seen within nine weeks, with no patient to wait more than 26 weeks.

At the end of June, 109,571 patients were waiting for a diagnostic test, with 43.5% waiting longer than nine weeks, an increase from 36.5% at the end of March.

Almost 12,700 patients (11.6%) were waiting more than 26 weeks for a diagnostic test.

Concerns about delays in diagnosing patients was shared by Roisin Foster , chief executive of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland who said: "The continuing failure to meet targets set for patients waiting for diagnosis and cancer treatment is of major concern.

"We need targeted work to reduce cancer patient waiting times immediately, to lower patient anxiety and the fear that their cancer is progressing while they wait. But the recent demand for a £70m cut to the Heath Trust budgets will undoubtedly impact directly on patient care and lead to even longer waiting times."

 

"Designed to reform a broken system"

Responding to the figures, Alliance Party health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw called for the immediate restoration of the Executive.

"It is clear the big two parties are now shirking their responsibilities with regards to managing the health service and the reform programme to which they committed,” said Ms Bradshaw.

“Implementation of the recommendations of Bengoa is urgently required as they are specifically designed to reform the broken system which leads to far too many people on waiting lists. It was also the DUP and Sinn Fein who chose not to raise health spending in line with England, and they cannot run away from their responsibility to fix that."

In October 2016 then Health Minister Michelle O'Neill unveiled the Bengoa Report, a 10-year action plan that made a number of recommendations for the overhaul of Northern Ireland's Health Service.

Health spokesperson for the Ulster Unionist Party Roy Beggs said that the number of people waiting longer than is medically safe had grown to an "unprecedented and terrifying level".

"The tragic reality is we have now crossed the point beyond which people will be coming to avoidable harm as a result of the delays they are facing," he said.

What do the figures show?

Along with growing waiting lists for diagnostic services, there were also increases in the length of time that patients waited for consultant-led outpatient appointments and inpatient and day-care admissions.

The department aims for no one to wait more than a year for their first consultant-led outpatient appointment, and for at least 50% of patients to wait no more than nine weeks for their first appointment.

At the end of June there were 264,451 patients waiting for their first appointment, an increase of more than 11,000 on the figure at the end of March, and a 17% jump - nearly 39,000 - on the same point in June 2016.

Despite aiming for zero, almost a quarter of all patients (64,074) were waiting more than a year to receive their first outpatient appointment - an increase of 21% from the end of March, and 13.4% from the end of June 2016.

For inpatient and day case admissions, the department aims to have 55% of patients waiting no more than 13 weeks, with no patient waiting more than a year.

Patients waiting more than 13 weeks for inpatient appointments came to 59%, 4% wide of the department's target, but still an increase on the 56% of patients waiting at the end of March and the 53.1% waiting at the end of June last year.

Here is a breakdown of how the health service performed in each of its Ministerial targets at the end of June:

Waiting time for first consultant-led outpatient appointment

Total number of patients on waiting list: 264,451

Ministerial target: At least 50% of patients waiting no longer than nine weeks, no patient waiting no longer than 52 weeks.

Percentage of patients waiting more than nine weeks: 71.6%

Patients waiting more than a year: 24.2%

Waiting time for inpatient and day care admission

Total number of patients on waiting list: 72,480

Ministerial target: At least 55% of patients waiting no longer than 13 weeks, no patient waiting no longer than 52 weeks.

Percentage of patients waiting more than 13 weeks: 59%

Patients waiting more than a year: 15.5%

Waiting time for a diagnostic service

Total number of patients on waiting list: 109,571

Ministerial target: 75% of patients waiting no longer than nine weeks, no patient waiting longer than 26 weeks.

Percentage of patients waiting more than nine weeks: 43.5%

Patients waiting more than 26 weeks: 11.6%

Belfast Telegraph