Northern Ireland

Big rise in NI outpatient waiting list

The number of people who waited longer than they should have for a first outpatient hospital appointment more than trebled in the last three months.

NHS targets state that patients should have an appointment within nine weeks.

Department of Health figures show that at the end of June, 29,149 patients had waited more than nine weeks, up 20,568 on the first three months of 2010.

This was more than a quarter of the total number of patients waiting for their first outpatient appointment.

Ministerial targets also state that people should wait no longer than 13 weeks for admission as an inpatient.

According to statistics published on Thursday, almost a quarter of patients (9,579) had waited this long for inpatient treatment at the end of June.

'Disappointed'

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said "a continued lack of funding" meant he was disappointed but not surprised by the rises in waiting times.

"I have been warning about this scenario for many months; it is a direct result of my budget being repeatedly cut," he said.

"If my budget is to be further cut then there will be more rises because we simply cannot meet the demand for services without the funding to match it.

"I want to apologise to those patients who will have to wait longer for surgery and outpatient appointments and assure the public that every effort is being made to treat people as quickly as possible.

"I also want to thank staff for their hard work and efforts in delivering a high quality service to patients despite facing increasing demand and with limited resources."

Mr McGimpsey said figures from the Treasury showed that spending per person on health services is lower in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK.

He said the focus must now be on reducing the use of the independent sector and instead concentrate on building up capacity in the health service.

"My spending plans for 2010-11 include a commitment of £25m a year to help create additional posts including more doctors and nurses, to ensure we have the right number of staff in place to respond to the needs of the population.

"However, this will take time to work through and we can expect waiting times to increase further over the next few months.

"If the Health and Social Care Service is subject to major spending reductions next year, then waiting times will be at further risk."

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