Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: NHS waiting times are truly shocking

It is appalling that some, indeed any, children in Northern Ireland are having to wait up to four years for a routine hospital appointment
It is appalling that some, indeed any, children in Northern Ireland are having to wait up to four years for a routine hospital appointment

It is appalling that some, indeed any, children in Northern Ireland are having to wait up to four years for a routine hospital appointment. Depending on the age of the young person when first referred, they may even be reclassified as an adult before getting that appointment and then are shuffled to the bottom of the adult list.

If ever anything falls into the category of 'you couldn't make it up', then this story revealed in our newspaper today is it.

These children are not being referred to hospital with minor ailments, but with potentially deadly conditions such as cardiology and allergy problems. The many weeks, months and even years spent on the waiting list to be seen by a consultant add to the anxiety of both the young person and their parents, and in some cases the condition can worsen if left untreated.

To add to the unfairness of the system, the length of time to get a hospital appointment can depend on where the young person lives.

The disparity in waiting times can be seen most clearly in the case of paediatric cardiology, with a child living in the South Eastern Trust having to wait almost three years, while one living in the Southern or Belfast Trust areas would have to wait less than a year and could get an urgent referral in Belfast in 20 weeks.

Little wonder that a range of figures - from a leading GP to a children's charity head to the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People - have described the system as broken and in urgent need of a drastic overhaul.

Sadly, this appalling tale is one that the public has heard far too often and applies to adults as well as children. It is not a reflection on NHS staff, who work heroically in the face of increasing challenges to meet need as best they can.

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Rather it is a case of the need for a systemic reorganisation of how the NHS works in today's world and the blueprint - or rather the latest in a series of blueprints - continues to gather dust at Stormont due to the lack of a functioning, devolved administration.

The Bengoa Report sets out how to streamline the NHS to make it more efficient and more responsive to increasing demands. But, like so many other day-to-day vital issues, it requires the oversight of a Health Minister to be fully implemented.

Caring for our children is surely a task which trumps any of the red lines which keep Sinn Fein and the DUP from going back to Stormont - or in a normal society it should.

Belfast Telegraph

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