Belfast Telegraph

Lisa Smyth: 'Atrocious' hospital waiting times on both sides of border among the worst in Europe

The picket line at Antrim Area hospital as UNISON members across the health and social services system take industrial action.
The picket line at Antrim Area hospital as UNISON members across the health and social services system take industrial action.

By Lisa Smyth

Hospital waiting times in the Republic are the worst of any nation state in Europe - but Northern Ireland's are significantly worse, it has emerged.

Figures compiled by political blog Slugger O'Toole using official statistics have laid bare the shocking extent of Northern Ireland's hospital waiting list crisis.

More than 40% of people here were waiting longer than a year for a hospital inpatient appointment this year, according to the website. This compared to fewer than 5% in England and Wales.

The probability of waiting over a year for hospital admission in Northern Ireland is 650 times higher than England and Wales, the article said.

It also looks at the difference between waiting times in Northern Ireland and south of the border.

The Belfast, Southern, South Eastern and Western trusts have the highest number of patients waiting longer than a year for inpatient appointments.

In the Western Trust, more than half of patients have been waiting longer than 52 weeks for an inpatient appointment this year.

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"Northern Ireland's hospital inpatient waiting times are atrocious," wrote author Peter Donaghy, a qualified accountant and data analyst.

"Waiting times across the border are the worst of any nation state in Europe, and the situation in Northern Ireland is significantly worse," he wrote.

Mr Donaghy stated that "the two healthcare systems in Ireland are the two worst in Europe". "With regards to A&E waiting times, the situation on both sides of the Irish border are among the worst in Europe, too," he continued.

"Either side of the Irish border, hospital patients experience the worst waiting times in Europe.

"Both lag far behind countries such as Albania or North Macedonia, both of which have GDP per capita figures that are less than a fifth of those in the Republic of Ireland.

"While the situation in Northern Ireland is a catastrophe, hospital waiting times are an all-Ireland crisis." Prominent GP Dr George O'Neill said the health service in Northern Ireland is inching closer to a situation where patients will be bed-bound for months while waiting for treatment.

"This doesn't only affect individuals, it affects families," he said. "It will have major implications for generations to come.

"If you have someone waiting for years for treatment and they aren't able to work, it will impact on their whole family for years to come.

"These aren't just elderly patients who are waiting for procedures, they are patients right across the population from all age groups.

"The Permanent Secretary has gone on record as saying he needs £1bn to address the waiting list situation, but in addition to that we also need transformation.

"Good work is being done, but it's also important to remember that the population also has a responsibility to take care of our own health so we aren't putting as much pressure on the system."

The chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee in Northern Ireland, Dr Alan Stout, said the current situation is putting additional pressure on the health service as a whole.

He said GPs and emergency departments are among the services having to manage painful and debilitating conditions while patients spend years on waiting lists for treatment.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said a plan to address the situation will require "significant recurrent investment as well as additional funding to reduce existing backlogs".

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