Hospital waiting times 'likely to get worse', health board chief says
The head of the Health and Social Care Board has said that patient waiting times for surgery are "likely to get worse" in the coming year.
BBC News NI revealed on Wednesday that the number of patients waiting for appointments at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast had risen by 75%.
Some patients have had to wait up to 74 weeks to see a specialist.
Valerie Watts apologised to patients who have waited an "inordinate amount of time" for surgery.
"It is both regrettable and it was also disturbing for me to hear about those [waiting times]," she said.
"I am not proud to hear some of these stories, as CEO presiding over the Health and Social Care Board, to hear about these waiting times."
But she told BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show that waiting times were likely to get worse "because of the budget".
"We must understand that we have a finite budget within which we are working with this year," she said.
"We are predicting that those waiting times will stretch out - some of them will be significantly [worse]."
Documents leaked to the BBC also showed that up to this month, there had been 11,846 breaches of the 18-week waiting list target for a specialist appointment.
Ms Watts blamed the growth in waiting lists on "unprecedented period of demand" for health and social care services in Northern Ireland.
She said there was not enough money being made available from Stormont to provide healthcare, and the board had asked to be given an additional £89m.
But there has been no indication yet as to whether that money will materialise.
The former medical director of the Western Health Trust called on politicians to prioritise funding for the health service to tackle the increase in waiting lists.
Dr Alan McKinney said politicians "can't continue to squabble and fight about things and not make progress" on a making a decision about health funding.
"Folk in Stormont and their advisors have big salaries, they have a job that needs to be done and I would like to see them get on and do that," he added.