Northern Ireland

Hospital outpatient waiting list increases

Inside a hospital corridor
Image caption Targets suggest no-one should have to wait beyond a year for an outpatient appointment

More people are having to wait longer on a hospital outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland.

In just three months the figure has increased by 6,895.

More than two thirds of patients were waiting more than nine weeks, in spite of targets stating that at least 50% of patients should wait no longer that.

The Department of Health statistics also reveal that more than 53,000 men and women have been waiting at least a year to see a consultant.

The target is that no-one should have to wait for longer than one year.

The new statistics show that all relevant targets have been breached.

'I was frazzled'

Derek McCambley, whose health is deteriorating due to his multiple sclerosis, had been waiting two years to see a consultant in 2016.

According to guidelines from the National Institute For Health and Clinical Excellence, he should see his consultant twice a year.

Image caption Laura Price says it is "not fair" that she has had to wait beyond two years for a knee operation

He finally got to see the specialist earlier this year.

"After waiting two years I finally got an appointment but I got to see him for about 10 minutes," said Mr McCambley.

"Before getting in I had to wait an hour-and-a-half in the waiting room - I was frazzled by the time I got to see him face-to-face.

"It's not the doctors' fault, it's the system."

Eighty-four-year-old Laura Price has been waiting for two years for a knee operation, and said she was in "a lot of pain".

"It's not fair really to wait so long - but then again there's nothing I can do about it," she said.

"If the hospitals don't have the doctors or nurses, what can I do? I just have to put up with it."

Policy not implemented

The figures highlight a system that is heaving under pressure.

With no mechanism in place to tackle the hospital waiting lists, their increase comes as no surprise.

Image caption A plan to tackle waiting lists has not been implemented due to Stormont's collapse

A number of facts remain unchanged, including that there continues to be an uncertain budget.

The numbers requiring care continue to rise against a backdrop of no change in the number of medical staff and hospital beds available.

With the absence of a Northern Ireland Executive and a health minister, there continues to be a lack of leadership.

That position also means that health policies, including one that specifically targets hospital waiting lists, remains unimplemented on the health minister's desk.

The BBC has seen hospital waiting times for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.

Currently, those waiting for a urology appointment have been told to expect a wait of at least 157 weeks.

Some orthopaedic appointments are showing a 95-week wait, with pain management sitting at 118 weeks.

'Agree radical change'

A consultant who works in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust told the BBC that the system simply cannot cope and patients were suffering.

The lack of leadership and money was having a detrimental impact on the overall running of the health service, the consultant added.

Image caption Patients are suffering as the health service comes under increasing pressure, a consultant says

The doctor said that the sooner politics at Stormont started working again, the better.

Another point was that, even if the political wheel starts turning, politicians have to agree that something radical needs to happen about how the service is being managed.

By March this year 121,786 people had attended hospital to see a consultant for the first time.

That marks an increase of 3.8%, or 4,453, in the previous quarter.

However, overall fewer people saw a consultant this March compared with the same time last year, which recorded 148,476 people seeing their consultant for the first time.

The current ministerial target for inpatient and day case waiting times states that 55% of patients should wait no longer than 13 weeks, with no patient waiting longer than 52 weeks.

In March, a total of 71,483 men and women were waiting for admission to hospital - about 700 more than three months previously.

Also 40,037 people had been waiting more than 13 weeks, with 9,615 waiting more than a year.

Targets for urgent diagnostic testing were also missed.

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