The DUP has attempted to blame a massive increase in hospital waiting times on nationalists’ refusal to implement welfare reforms.
Waiting times at Musgrave Park Hospital, Northern Ireland’s specialist orthopaedics hospital, have soared 75 per cent over the last two years, figures leaked to the BBC have revealed.
The figures show that there is a 74-week waiting list to see a back surgery consultant.
The situation for other orthopaedic surgery is similarly serious: there is a 59-week delay for knee appointments and a 56-week wait for knee patients.
Belfast Health Trust said there had been an increase in demand for services, but additional funding had not been made available to increase its capacity to meet that demand.
The revelations come as fresh evidence emerges of increasing public dissatisfaction with the health service in Northern Ireland.
Official Department of Health figures released on Wednesday show that over recent years there has been a significant increase in the number of ‘complaint issues’ which now stands at 7,015 in the last year — a 27 per cent increase since the DUP took the health ministry in 2011.
On Wednesday night the DUP attempted to blame the problems on Sinn Fein and the SDLP, because those parties’ veto of welfare reform is costing the Executive more than £100 million a year.
DUP MLA Paul Givan said that non-emergency waiting times had “improved significantly over the last number of years” but deteriorated during the last year, partly because of an increase in demand, as well as “the wider financial situation”.
He said: “It is extremely frustrating that this progress is being lost, and the numbers waiting for inpatient admission have returned to the 2011 level inherited by the DUP. Due to Executive resources being diverted to pay for welfare penalties, funding is not available for additional waiting list activity in-house or through the independent sector.”
But former health minister Michael McGimpsey said it was the responsibility of the health minister to ensure that the NHS was “adequately resourced”.
Mr McGimpsey said: “It is a shocking statistic that over 10 per cent of the entire population are right now waiting for a hospital appointment. Very often they are waiting for diagnosis and treatment for debilitating illnesses.
“Even the Health and Social Care Board acknowledge that increased waiting times for assessment may be resulting in delayed diagnosis of serious or life-threatening conditions with reduced likelihood of successful outcomes.”
Maeve McLaughlin, the Sinn Fein chair of the Stormont health committee, said that the health minister needed to bring forward an “action plan” for reducing waiting lists.
She said: “The health committee carried out an inquiry into waiting times and a number of recommendations were made, which need to be implemented as a matter of urgency.”
Ukip’s David McNarry said that the NHS “clearly lacks numbers in key senior positions” and called for greater use of private healthcare companies.