Figures show consultant waiting times on the increase in Northern Ireland
Recent figures published by the Department of Health have shown that patients in Northern Ireland are facing increasingly long waiting times for consultant appointments, despite Ministerial targets made last year.
A total of 253,093 patients were waiting for a first outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland as of 31st March 2017, which is almost a 20% increase on last year’s figures.
The Ministerial target set for this year stated that by March 2017, 50% of patients should wait no longer than 9 weeks for a first outpatient appointment, and no patient should wait longer than 52 weeks.
However, this target was not achieved by Northern Ireland as a whole or by an individual HSC Trust, with almost 70% of patients waiting longer than 9 weeks.
Almost two thirds of the 253,093 patients were waiting for a first outpatient appointment in one of the following specialties; Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery; Ear, Nose and Throat; General Surgery; Ophthalmology; Gynaecology; Neurology; and General Medicine.
Elaynee Ramsey, 43, from Seahill, Craigavad, said:
“I found a lump inside my mouth and neither my doctor or dentist could work out what it was.”
“Finally, my dentist referred me to an EMT specialist.”
“This was over a six months ago and I still haven’t received so much as a letter to confirm an appointment.”
The 52 week target was also not met by Northern Ireland as a whole, or by an individual HSC Trust, with 21% (53,113) of patients waiting longer than 52 weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.
Most of the 53,113 patients waiting more than 52 weeks for an such an appointment were in the following specialties: Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery; Ophthalmology; Neurology; Ear, Nose, and Throat, General Medicine; General Surgery, and Urology.
During the quarter ending March 2017, 1,722 patients decided to use the private sector as an alternative. This is more than double the figures from the previous quarter.
Serena Mills, 22, East Belfast, said:
“I was referred to a dermatologist about a mole on my back but the GP said it wasn’t urgent so I just waited.”
“But then I got a smear test and the results came back and I got referred and it was going to take ages so the GP recommended I go private. So I did.”
“The mole thing was about last year and I got seen in about three months, but it was meant to be about six months before I would have been able to get an appointment about the smear results which is why I went private for it.”
A Co. Down GP has spoken out against the excessive waiting times being endured by his patients who are forced to carry on with painful and debilitating conditions:
“This cannot be allowed to go on.”
“GPs are forced to manage patients’ conditions who are waiting a long time to be seen by a consultant.”
“I have seen patients wait a year and a half just to get an appointment with a consultant to have their tonsils assessed, for example, and then after that they have to wait another year for the operation to have them removed.”
“It’s sad that so many GPs have to recommend that patients go private because the waiting times on the NHS are so long.”
In February, the former Health Minister Michelle O’Neill unveiled a plan to address the waiting list crisis, requiring a £31.2 million cash injection.
O’Neill said that she hoped it would mean that by March 2018, no one would wait more than a year for a first hospital appointment or surgery.
The plan has six commitments which encompass a number of actions designed to reform elective care services to meet current and future demand.
A key commitment is to provide assessment, treatment and care to reduce the waiting lists backlog, while continuing the longer term process to transform secondary, primary and community care services
However, given the current political stalemate in Northern Ireland, it is not known if this plan will move forward.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said:
“The plan does not focus solely on hospitals, but takes into account all of our health and social care services working together to transform the delivery of care.
“Parts of this will involve maximising hospital capacity through innovations such as specialist elective care centres for treatment and the further development of ambulatory assessment and treatment centres, but it is also about making better use of the skills of our primary care professionals and doing more outside the hospital setting”.