Health Minister O’Neill accused of ‘abdicating responsibility’ to patients

Northern Ireland’s health service is in an “abhorrent” state with more than a quarter of a million people waiting for an appointment to see a consultant, it has been warned.

Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson said the safety of patients is being compromised due to a failure to tackle soaring waiting lists.

Latest statistics from the health department show that waiting times for consultant-led appointments, inpatient, day case treatment and diagnostic services are continuing to increase, despite pledges to address the problem. More than 240,000 patients are waiting for a first consultant-led appointment.

Almost 50,000 of those patients have been waiting more than a year. In addition, more than 70,000 patients are awaiting hospital treatment, with 8,479 waiting over 12 months.

More than 105,000 people are also waiting for diagnostic services. This is a 12% rise from the previous year.

“The latest publication of the quarterly waiting times statistics shows that the unprecedented crisis engulfing the Health Service in Northern Ireland is deepening,” said Ms Dobson.

The Assembly candidate in Upper Bann added: “It is outrageous that there are over 246,000 patients waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

“More frightening however is the fact that over 47,000 of those have been waiting longer than a year. Amongst those waiting will be patients who are genuinely petrified and distressed about delays in their diagnosis, as well as many others in daily pain and discomfort awaiting treatment.”

She accused health minister Michelle O’Neill of “abdicating her responsibilities” to patients.

Ms O’Neill recently published a plan to help reduce the large number of patients waiting longer than a year for treatment.

However, due to the collapse of Stormont, no health budget has been set and therefore no money is available for the plan.

“Politics has been placed ahead of patients. That is an abhorrent situation,” Ms Dobson added.

Paula Bradley of the DUP has called on the health minister to “come clean” and release what she called the “real waiting list figures” detailing the totals available to her for inpatient, outpatient and diagnostic waits.

She said: “This morning (Thursday) Michelle O’Neill’s department has released statistics from December. However the minister has access to much more up to date figures from the Health and Social Care Board providing the very latest numbers waiting to be seen, and in the interests of transparency this information should be made available to show the actual position as she leaves the department.”

Ms Bradley went on to say: “Sinn Fein’s time in the Department of Health has been one of inaction and failure”.

Commenting on the latest figures, the Royal College of Surgeons said we should not forget “that behind these statistics are potentially very ill and anxious patients”.

“The reasons for high waiting times are complex and will not be solved overnight. Next week’s elections offer an opportunity for political parties to return to the Executive, debate the Elective Care Plan, and reaffirm their commitment to improving access to surgery in Northern Ireland,” the RCS spokesman added.