No emergency cash to tackle waiting list crisis the way we tackled the pandemic, says Robin Swann

The money is not available to tackle the waiting list crisis in the same way as the coronavirus pandemic, Robin Swann has said.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 4:29 pm
Surgery. (U.S. Army photo by Maria Pinel)

The Health Minister was speaking after the latest hospital waiting time statistics for Northern Ireland showed more than 335,000 people are waiting for a first consultant-led appointment with more than half — 189,753 — waiting more than a year.

That means roughly 10% of the population has waited a year just to see a consultant, before waiting again for actual treatment in most cases.

Mr Swann said he “understands” calls for the waiting list crisis to be tackled in the same way as the coronavirus pandemic, but warned that the money is not there to allow that to happen.

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

Sign up to our public interest bulletins - get the latest news on the Coronavirus

“I have heard calls for waiting lists to be addressed in the same way we tackled Covid-19,” he said. “I understand that view. Indeed, the innovation, determination and togetherness that we have seen during the pandemic will all be essential.

“However, it should also be remembered that we tackled Covid with unprecedented levels of emergency funding at our disposal. We do not have that for waiting times.”

Mr Swann added: “The NHS was built on the principle of being free and available at the point of need. Our waiting lists are undermining that principle.”

The Royal College of Surgeons published a 10-point plan to bring the crisis under control earlier this week.

The organisation’s Nortehrn Ireland Director, Belfast-based consultant surgeon Mark Taylor said: “Our health service was nearing crisis point before the pandemic, and the situation has only worsened over the last year. It is heart-breaking as a clinician to have to tell patients that they may be waiting many more months, if not years for the treatment they need. It’s easy to see why some are turning to private providers.”

He added: “The task ahead may seem overwhelming, but the Royal College of Surgeons has laid out a workable plan.