Northern Ireland

Health board defends outpatients system

Craigavon Area Hospital
Image caption Consultants at Craigavon Area Hospital have raised concerns over outpatient appointments

Outpatient appointments in Northern Ireland are not being postponed as part of a "bureaucratic exercise", the Health and Social Care Board has said.

The board's John Compton was speaking after claims by a senior consultant who works at Craigavon Area Hospital.

The consultant said patient safety was being put at risk because of a concentration on meeting targets.

However, on Friday Mr Compton said: "No-one is postponing outpatient clinics in some bureaucratic way."

He added: "The whole purpose of what we're trying to do, the purpose of having targets, is that we want to see people in a timely and responsible way."

Mr Compton said with about 6,000 patients every day coming through the outpatients system there would always be situations were some clinics were postponed.

He said the system was being reviewed to make it more efficient.

"We are setting ourselves the target of 2012 to have them in the proper order, the proper timing that we think is the priority for action - we're in the process of doing that," he said.

"We're starting from a position where there was substantial disorder in how outpatients were being looked after.

"If you go back to 2007 you would find there was a very substantial wait period for people and that is very substantially improving."

Helpline

The Southern Health Trust has set up a helpline to deal with concerns raised over outpatient appointments.

Trust chief executive Mairead McAlinden met Health Minister Michael McGimpsey on Thursday afternoon.

Afterwards, she said the trust had set up the information line because of "media coverage" on the appointments issue.

The consultant, who did not want to be identified, said post-operative patients had their case reviews postponed as doctors are too busy trying to meet new patient targets.

Hospitals have to meet targets for new patients but not for outpatients.

Safety

The consultant also claimed patients that were being brought back for a review appointment were prioritised by the alphabetical order of their surname in order to meet the new patient targets. The trust has denied this claim.

One patient, Eric Quigley, told the BBC on Thursday that he had waited nine years for a review appointment after suffering major heart problems.

Ms McAlinden asked the Quigley family to contact her so she could investigate and explained the process for review appointments.

"The system works in three levels, anyone who requires a review within six weeks will be seen first," she added..

"Patients who are on special drug treatments and are required to be seen within a particular time frame are allowed review appointments next.

"The remaining non-urgent or routine patients are selected for booking in date order."

Ms McAlinden also expressed "disappointment" that staff at Craigavon were coming to the media with allegations instead of raising them with managers in the trust.

The number for the information helpline is 02838 614166. It will be open from 0800 GMT to 2000 GMT for an "interim period".

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