Hospital waiting lists are continuing to grow despite the injection of extra cash from the DUP’s deal with the Conservative Party.
The Royal College of Surgeons warned that “we can’t go on like this” after the publication of the latest waiting list figures from the Department of Health.
Nearly 20,000 people in Northern Ireland have been waiting more than an entire year for inpatient treatment.
In England, where the population dwarfs that of Northern Ireland, the equivalent figure is just 3,156.
The statistics for outpatient appointments are similarly dire.
On September 30, there were 283,497 people on the outpatient waiting lists for a consultant-led appointment – 212,985 (75.1%) had been waiting more than nine weeks, while 94,222 (32.1%) had been waiting over a year.
The figures come in spite of an injection of £30 million to tackle waiting lists from the DUP’s confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives at Westminster.
The Royal College of Surgeons, a professional membership body that aims to advance care, said the situation here is “deeply distressing and depressing”.
Mark Taylor, director for Northern Ireland at the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “We can’t go on like this – with health here operating on single year budgets and barely enough money to keep its head above water, let alone tackle the backlog of patients waiting for care.
“The funding provided this year has taken significant numbers off waiting lists. But it’s still only slowed the increase in the backlog. That shows the scale of the challenge we are facing.”
Mr Taylor added: “We need to radically transform the way services are provided. That’s the long-term transformation solution – bridging the gap between growing demand for services and the capacity of the system to meet that demand.
“It’s that gap that means the waiting list backlog keeps increasing. We also need guaranteed and sustained investment across a number of years to eradicate that backlog.
“Unfortunately, those of us who warned about our health service sitting on a burning platform are being proved right.”
The Ulster Unionist Party’s health spokesperson, Roy Beggs MLA, said the latest set of waiting lists show that it is now time for the UK government to step in and take action in the absence of an NI health minister.
“It has got the stage now where patients are suffering,” he said.
“We urgently need a government and an accountable health minister in place to drive immediate improvements in our health service. If this is not being provided by a local Executive, then the secretary of state and our Westminster government have a duty to citizens to step in and appoint one.”
Mr Beggs continued: “Karen Bradley’s fanciful policy of sitting on the fence and hoping for the DUP and Sinn Fein to come together to break the political stalemate isn’t worth patients coming to any more harm.”