Editor's Viewpoint: It's time to sort out appointments lists
The NHS is forever under strain. That is the nature of a service free at the point of delivery, and with an ageing population demanding more and more of the ever-evolving treatments available.
For those very reasons - along with the finite resources available - it is vital that hospital and community services are run as efficiently as possible. Figures revealed in this newspaper today beg the question if the hospital sector is fulfilling those requirements.
The number of hospital appointments cancelled last year was a 383,000, incredibly more than 1,000 a day. How could such a gross figure be arrived at? Part of the problem is patients failing to turn up. That is unforgiveable. Every cancelled appointment means that someone else on the waiting list is denied seeing a specialist for another period of time. Good manners, if not social responsibility, should demand that people notify health trusts if they cannot keep appointments.
But tens of thousands of appointments were cancelled by hospitals. Most were because staff were not available. Thousands more appointments were cancelled by consultants. Without a clear explanation, the figures smack of a lack of organisation. It has to be accepted there will always be cancellations. Staff holidays and sickness will mean there are not enough staff at a particular time to meet demand. But such is the scale of the problem in what is, after all, a relatively small province, cannot be explained away easily.
The NI Assembly needs to examine this problem urgently. There are fears that the health budget could be severely affected by public spending cuts being announced in the autumn, which will put further strain on the NHS. The imperative for optimum performance in both hospitals and community settings will be even more apparent in that case. Not only must the hospitals ensure the appointments system runs better, they must also prioritise those patients seeking consultant appointments, to ensure that they receive effective treatment before it is too late.