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'Some will never be seen...' shock extent of waiting list crisis facing Robin Swann


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Health Minister Robin Swann

Health Minister Robin Swann

PA

Health Minister Robin Swann

The extent of the waiting list shame Robin Swann must tackle as Health Minister has been revealed.

Official statistics have exposed the deterioration of waiting times for first outpatient appointments while Northern Ireland's politicians refused to take their seats at Stormont.

They also highlight the postcode lottery of care that exists for patients, with waiting times for appointments in different trusts varying by more than a year in some cases.

Alarmingly, they have also revealed that some patients who have an urgent referral for a painful and debilitating condition can expect to wait between two and three years for their first hospital appointment.

Meanwhile, thousands of patients with routine referrals face never being seen, with one hospital doctor warning: "As it stands, there are actually people who are being referred who will simply never get an appointment.

"They will continually be bumped down the list by people being added on who need to be seen more urgently."

Figures released to the Belfast Telegraph have shown that neurology is still failing to cope with demand.

Waiting times to see a neurologist have been slowly climbing since Dr Michael Watt was suspended from working after concerns were raised about his clinical practice.

All the figures below refer to the 14-month period from September 2018 to November 2019, unless indicated otherwise.

The wait time for an urgent neurology appointment in the Belfast Trust rose from 68 weeks to 160.

Routine neurology appointments in the trust rose from 246 weeks to 264.

In the Western Trust, urgent referrals to neurology increased from 99 weeks to 247.

Meanwhile, the wait for a routine neurology appointment in the Western Trust grew from 198 to 258 weeks in the same period.

Almost all specialties saw an increase in their wait times over the period in question. Ophthalmology in the Belfast Trust saw a significant jump in waiting times, from a 28-week wait for an urgent appointment to 101 weeks.

The wait for routine appointments in the specialty rose from 173 weeks to 227.

The wait for an urgent urology appointment increased by 39% from 38 to 53 weeks.

Patients referred for a routine urology appointment in the Southern Trust faced a wait of 141 weeks in September 2018, but this had increased to 196 weeks by last November.

The trust has apologised for the waiting times and said it prioritises patients by urgency and in line with guidance.

In the South Eastern Trust, the wait time for a routine ENT appointment in September 2018 was 117 weeks, but this increased to 148-weeks by last November.

Gastroenterology saw a significant decrease in the wait time for a routine appointment, down from 208 to 149.

The wait time for a routine general surgery appointment in the Western Trust at the end of August 2018 was 195 weeks, but this climbed to 256 weeks by the end of October last year.

Routine orthopaedics appointments saw a similar decline in waiting times, from 222 weeks at the end of August 2018, to 282 weeks last October.

The Northern Trust only provided the average waiting times for November 2019, so they do not provide a true reflection of the waits being endured by patients and cannot be compared to statistics relating to September 2018.

Waiting times have played a key part in the crisis currently facing the health service.

They have spiralled out of control since the collapse of the Assembly in January 2017.

According to Department of Health figures, there were more than 306,000 people waiting for a first outpatient appointment at the end of September last year. More than 108,000 of these, or 35% of the total number waiting, had been referred more than a year before.

The number of people on the waiting list for a first outpatient appointment at the end of December 2016, just weeks before the Assembly collapsed, stood at 246,198.

Of these, 47,072 people had been waiting longer than a year, representing one fifth of the total number of patients waiting.

Mr Swann said now that the issues related to industrial action had been resolved, "my focus is on the other top priorities facing my department, which certainly includes the unacceptable level of waiting lists here".

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