Hospital appointments: RCS warning over waiting lists

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The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has warned that Northern Ireland patients are waiting too long for surgery.

The latest hospital waiting list figures show 55.3% of patients were waiting longer than 13 weeks to be admitted for inpatient or day case treatment.

Meanwhile, 12% of patients waited more than 52 weeks.

The college said the figures do not come close to meeting the current target.

In a highly unusual move, the RCS said it had decided to speak out as people must not forget that behind the figures "are potentially very ill and anxious patients who are being made to wait too long for surgery".

"This is the true impact of waiting times spiralling out of control in Northern Ireland," it added.

The college is also concerned that according to the recently published elective care plan, one of the reforms includes the removal of the 13-week target for inpatient and day case treatment.

This would mean that the only remaining target would be for no patients to wait more than a year for treatment.

The Department of Health said it is "committed to dealing with the backlog of patients who are currently waiting".

However, its latest statistics reveal more people are having to wait longer on a hospital outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland.

At the end of December, a total of 246,198 patients were waiting - that is 3,057 more people than who were on the same list at the end of September 2016.

About 72.4% of patients were waiting more than nine weeks.

Government targets state that at least 50% of patients should not have to wait any longer than the recommended nine week target.

The number of people having to wait more than a year for an outpatient appointment has also jumped - in three months that figure has increased by about 7,000.

With no additional funding, a budget, or an executive in place, the jump comes as no surprise.

As these figures capture what was happening between October and December 2016, they will already be out of date and undoubtedly have increased again.

Diagnostic tests

A spokesperson for the RCS said it was deeply concerned about the current trends in Northern Ireland.

"It has been over four years since the health service in Northern Ireland last met its 13 week waiting time target for inpatient and day case treatment and 10 years since the 52 week target was met.

"Currently over two thirds of patients are waiting more than 13 weeks for inpatient treatment."

Diagnostic waiting times are also up - at 31 December, 105,316 men and women were waiting for a diagnostic service, that is a 3.2% increase compared to the end of September and 12% more than 12 months previously.

The ministerial target for diagnostic waiting times says that by March 2017, 75% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks, with no patient waiting longer than 26 weeks.

According to these latest figures, 43.7% of patients were waiting longer than nine weeks.

This upward trend will continue until a substantial sum of money is injected into the health service.

In a statement, a Department of Health spokesperson said that the "commissioning plan targets are not being removed and will remain in place".

"The target is still that 55% of patients should wait no longer than 13 weeks for inpatient treatment and no patient waits longer than 52 weeks," it added.

"Commitment One of the elective care plan is about dealing with the backlog of patients who are currently waiting.

"In this context, it refers to reducing the current maximum waiting time for a first out-patient appointment and in-patient/day case procedure to 52 weeks, and for a diagnostics appointment to 26 weeks."