Hospitals recovering from pandemic, say NI surgeons

Northern Ireland’s health service is making significant progress in its recovery from the pandemic, surgeons have said after new hospital statistics were published.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 4th August 2022, 10:17 pm

The Royal College of Surgeons say the annual ‘Inpatient, Day Case and Outpatient Hospital Statistics’ for Northern Ireland, covering the 2021/22 financial year, show that progress has been made, but that more needs to be done to get back to pre-pandemic levels.

Overall, there were 510,834 inpatient and day case admissions to hospitals in Northern Ireland during the past year.

This was an increase of 19.4% (83,102) on the number of admissions during the 2020/21 financial year but a decrease of 16.1% (97,704) on the number admitted during 2017/18.

The NHS is still recovering from the pandemic.

In 2021/22, there were 83,269 theatre cases across all HSC Trust hospitals; this was an increase of 39.3% (23,507) compared with 59,762 theatre cases in 2020/21.

At the beginning of the pandemic, all planned surgery in Northern Ireland stopped and throughout subsequent Covid-19 waves, surgical activity suffered from a stop-start approach.

The Royal College of Surgeons, in an analysis of the latest figures, say the impact on planned operations was clear with theatre case figures showing a drop of 46% during 2020/21 and outpatient activities experiencing a similar decrease of 50%.

Current waiting times show 358,807 patients are waiting for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant and over 122,000 are waiting for surgery or treatment.

The largest waiting list is the 27,068 waiting for general surgery, followed by 25,742 waiting for trauma and orthopaedic surgery, and the 13,640 waiting for some form of ear, nose and throat surgery.

Responding to the report, Gary Spence, a member of the Northern Ireland board of The Royal College of Surgeons, said: “Against the backdrop of the worst waiting time figures in the UK, the new figures demonstrate that Northern Ireland hospitals are recovering, with activity rates that are better than the previous year.”

He added: “However, it’s crystal clear we are not back to pre-pandemic levels yet. We need to continue to increase access to planned surgery. Unfortunately however, with continuing spikes in Covid-19 infection, staff illness and low staff morale, getting planned services to recover fully is going to take some time. Unfortunately, it is our patients who are still suffering.”