Belfast Telegraph

Waiting times need addressed

By Maeve McLaughlin

The issue of excessive waiting times for elective care is not new. For more than a decade there have been significant problems around providing timely outpatient appointments and surgeries.

What is called elective care can impact severely on those requiring care.

Indeed, you may also need more frequent emergency hospitalisation, which then puts pressure on already overburdened A&E departments.

We know that the Department of Health takes this issue seriously; in almost every proposed budget, it has allocated monies to reduce the waiting time for elective care.

But so important is this continuing issue that the Stormont health committee felt it was necessary to look at the way the department had dealt with this and identify effective approaches which have been used in other countries or regions and could be applied here.

My committee has consulted widely and drawn up a number of recommendations that we hope the department will implement.

The most important of these is the introduction of targets that start from the GP referral and end with the complaint having been treated.

Currently, our system measures different parts of this journey and therefore it does not capture the entirety of the time that patients wait to be seen and treated.

England, Scotland and Denmark currently use this "Referral to Treatment" target and the department here has indicated it sees this as a desirable target to implement.

Another concern that the committee had was in respect of private sector elective care. Since 2009, between £55m and £65m has been spent to provide elective care by private providers.

The problem with this approach is that it encourages a "quick fix", which is unsustainable in the longer run. We want to see action taken to build the capacity within the health service, which results in better follow-up care for patients.

The health service is a vitally important part of our society.

The recommendations in this report will strengthen the way it works for all our people.

  • Maeve McLaughlin MLA is chairperson of the Assembly's health committee

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