Belfast Telegraph

Numbers waiting year to see consultant up 2,000% in Northern Ireland

UUP MLA Roy Beggs
UUP MLA Roy Beggs

By Gillian Halliday

The number of people waiting more than a year for a first outpatient appointment has surged by almost 2,000% in four years.

New figures offer another insight into the waiting list crisis in Northern Ireland's health service.

As of April, 100,786 people were waiting longer than 52 weeks for their initial outpatient appointments.

This is 1,900% more than in 2015 when the equivalent figure was just 5,000.

In addition, a further 22,687 patients were waiting longer than a year for inpatient or day case treatment as of April.

The shocking figures come as a report published this week warned that people in Northern Ireland - both inpatients and outpatients - are 3,000 times more likely to wait over a year for treatment than their counterparts in England.

UUP MLA Roy Beggs described the latest figures as further evidence of our health service in the midst of an "unprecedented crisis" that is getting worse.

"It is a tragedy on an epic scale that with a population of only 1.8m people, over 1 in 20 have now been waiting for longer than a year to see a consultant," he said.

"If the same proportion of the population were waiting that length of time in any other part of the UK it would be considered a national disgrace.

"Yet (here) the problem is still getting worse and it's barely getting a mention."

He added: "Failure to act now will lead to the targets moving even further beyond reach." The Department of Health repeated a previous statement that "sustained and significant" investment is required to address Northern Ireland's waiting list backlog.

"The causes of the waiting list backlog are clear.

"Waiting times have been escalating since 2014, as growing pressures on the health budget meant limited funding was available to suppress waiting time growth," said a spokesperson.

"Alongside sustained investment, longer term transformation of services is required to prevent future backlogs."

The spokesperson said transformation is under way and will undoubtedly involve some difficult decisions, such as consolidating some hospital services in regional centres of excellence to improve capacity.

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