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Misleading impression on waiting times for consultants

I write to take issue with the headline ‘Why waiting room seats were empty: consultants were too busy to keep 80,000 appointments’ (Belfast Telegraph Friday, August 27, 2010).

This headline is misleading and appears to imply that any decision not to see these patients was taken by consultants themselves. This would be incorrect.

Consultants may not be able to keep appointments due to illness or other unforeseen absence on the part of themselves or other colleagues. In addition, any planned absence of consultants should always be factored in to appointments management by hospitals, and appointments allocated on the basis of actual consultant time available.

Whilst it is unacceptable that clinics are cancelled at the last minute by hospitals, even after doctors have given sufficient notice that a cover will be required, I can assure you that if consultants are busy, it is because they are busy covering gaps in understaffed rotas, in addition to trying to manage increasingly demanding workloads and meeting targets.

The British Medical Association (BMA) has repeatedly warned that there are not enough doctors working in Northern Ireland and that this will exacerbate the waiting times our patients are facing.

BMA has repeatedly called for better workforce planning to ensure that our patients are seen in a timely manner, now and into |the future.

There has been an under-investment in the health service workforce over many years, despite BMA raising its concerns time and again.

If the health service in Northern Ireland is to weather the current storm of funding cuts, then |doctors and patients must work together to ensure that every penny is spent wisely.

Doctors will do this by continuing to treat in excess of 1.5m patients per year.

Patients must play their role by turning up for their appointments. Given that appointments cancelled by consultants is equivalent to just 1.8% of the total number of patients seen and that patients did not turn up for the equivalent of 11.5% of appointments, perhaps the headline should have read “patients fail to keep 180,000 appointments”.

Danny Lambe

BMA (NI) Secretary

Belfast Telegraph


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