Editor's Viewpoint: Waiting list debacle shames Northern Ireland politicians
The statistics contained in our story today on the length of time that many patients have to wait for a first specialist appointment demonstrate that the health service is under enormous pressure to deliver even a routine service.
Shockingly it is now not uncommon for someone referred by their GP for an outpatient appointment to wait for four years to see a specialist. And that is only the first stage of their treatment if the GP's suspicions are confirmed. There will be more lengthy waits for diagnosis, a treatment plan and surgery or other treatment to be delivered.
This is unacceptable. As our story reveals even the suspicion that someone has cancer - a disease whose successful treatment is highly dependent on early diagnosis - is no guarantee the patient will be seen as speedily as protocols demand.
To compound the problems the length of time someone has to wait for specialist examination can depend simply on where they live.
That can make a difference of up to three years.
Quite simply that is scandalous in a province with a total population equal to that of a relatively small city in other regions of the UK.
None of this should be taken as an attack on those doctors, nurses and associated health professionals who strive daily to provide the best service they can. Rather it is a reflection on a service which is rapidly becoming not fit for purpose and in need of radical reform. Innovative ideas like elective care centres which are expected to become operative in 2020 will manage some waiting lists more effectively.
In the meantime the only solution is to throw more money at the waiting lists. That works in the short-term but it is a method which has been used for decades without any lasting impact.
The Bengoa report which recommends ways of streamlining the service making it more efficient and effective is still awaiting ministerial sign off since the fall of devolution.
Providing an efficient health service is one of the prime duties of any administration. It supersedes practically every other public service and, indeed, takes up at least half of the Northern Ireland block grant. It requires a firm ministerial hand to guide it but that duty has been ignored by our bickering politicians.
Little wonder that Ellvena Graham, president of the NI Chamber of Commerce, recently asked: "Do our politicians no longer care? Or have they simply lost the plot?"