The health service in Northern Ireland has reached a watershed moment as the number of outpatients waiting longer than a year has now exceeded 100,000, an MLA has said.
Ulster Unionist health spokesperson Roy Beggs has revealed that – though internal Health and Social Care Board figures he has seen – the number of patients waiting longer than 52 weeks for a first outpatient appointment at the end of April 2019 reached a shocking 100,786.
At the end of April 2015 the equivalent figure was 5,000.
The East Antrim Assemblyman said: “The draft commissioning plan for 2019/20 states that no patient should be waiting longer than 52 weeks to have their first appointment with a consultant. Yet according to figures recently considered by the management of the Health and Social Care Board over 100,000 are.
“Additionally, a further 22,687 patients were waiting longer than a year for inpatient or daycare treatment at the end of April.”
Mr Beggs said the waiting list crisis is “a tragedy on an epic scale”.
He added: “The simple reality is that, as the gap between demand and capacity in the local health service continues to widen daily, waiting times will inevitably continue to increase. The only way to slow down the spiralling situation in our health service will be to increase the number of physical beds and permanent staff. That first requires a recognition that the ad-hoc allocations of funding and the piecemeal efforts taken to address the problems in recent years are simply not working.
“The Northern Ireland health service has reached a watershed moment. All the main targets across all the key areas such as A&E, planned operations, outpatients, ambulance response times and cancer treatments are being missed. The targets are now totally detached from reality and yet behind them all are ordinary people tragically coming to harm as they are adversely impacted by the huge delays.
“Failure to act now will lead to the targets moving even further beyond reach.”
Mr Beggs added that unless the cross party talks to restore devolution at Stormont reach a breakthrough soon and an Executive is reestablished, direct rule should be introduced.
“Someone, either here or at Westminster, ultimately needs to be placed in a position to take the urgent decisions and actions needed for the benefit of patients,” the MLA concluded.