Northern Ireland

Increase in NI hospital waiting list times

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Image caption Waiting times for a first consultant-led appointments in Northern Ireland have increased by almost 7%

Consultant-led hospital waiting list times have risen 7% since last year.

Official figures also reveal little improvement for people waiting on a diagnostic test.

When it comes to having an initial consultant-led appointment, a total of 288,754 people were on the waiting list - 19,000 more than in 2018.

There are 130,351 patients waiting for a diagnostic test - a test or procedure to identify what could be wrong - up 22.3% compared to March 2018.

The draft government target states that all urgent diagnostic tests should be reported on within two days of the test being taken, however just 86.1% of tests were reported on within that recommended time.

Analysis: Marie-Louise Connolly, BBC News NI health correspondent

The new statistics will be a disappointing read for the Department of Health.

While the transformation programme is a 10-year-long plan, health officials would have been hoping to see more light.

To date, the transformation programme has seen the creation of elective care centres for cataract and varicose veins, there has been little impact on critical care.

The department would urge people to be patient with the 10-year transformation programme, but those waiting several years for surgery or a test to find the source of pain will take little comfort from that message.

'Patient demand'

The director of the Royal College of Surgeons stresses that behind the statistics are many hard-working men and women.

"We must never lose sight of the fact that the waiting list numbers represent patients, in pain and discomfort, who are being made to wait far longer than is acceptable for the treatment they need," said Mark Taylor.

"While the transformation agenda and the creation of regional elective care centres are vital, they will not solve spiralling waiting lists on their own.

"There is a growing gap between patient demand and the capacity of our health system to meet that demand.

"There is a real onus on our political leaders, currently locked in negotiations to bring about the return of the Assembly, to put aside differences and establish local government as quickly as possible to assist in the massive task ahead."

'Ongoing transformation'

In an unusual move, the Department of Health also released a statement on the figures stating that funding to suppress waiting time growth has been in limited supply.

"Alongside sustained investment, longer term action is also required to prevent the problem recurring.

"That means transformation of health and social care - improving the capacity of the system to ensure that the growing demand for care is met.

"The gap between current capacity and demand will not be bridged in any other way."

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