Waiting lists for neurology patients in the Belfast Trust have exploded in the past year, the News Letter can reveal.
The number of people waiting over two years to be seen by a neurologist has trebled in just 12 months, and now stands at over 1,500.
Patients have described the waiting times as a “disgrace”.
The total number of people on waiting lists has also grown substantially, and now stands at over 6,000 people.
Neurologists treat a range of conditions relating to the nervous system, including life-threatening illnesses such as motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis (MS).
The Belfast Trust says the waiting times are not linked to the largest patient recall it had ever undertaken, which happened in May this year. The trust recalled thousands of neurology patients amid fears of misdiagnosis following a review of patient notes relating to the work of a consultant, Dr Michael Watt.
In a statement, the trust said the current backlog is not linked and instead “reflects all consultant neurologist waiting times”.
The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster reported yesterday morning that the average waiting time for a first ‘routine’ neurology appointment in the Belfast Trust is 23 months, and five months for an ‘urgent’ appointment.
The News Letter has now discovered a huge rise in both the total number of people on the waiting lists, and the number of people waiting more than two years.
In March this year, there were 6,059 people on the neurology waiting lists for the Belfast Trust, figures from the Department of Health show.
Compared to March 2017, when the total number of patients on the waiting list was 4,718, that represents ajump of 28%.
The number of people waiting more than two years to be seen by a neurologist in Belfast has risen even more dramatically. In March 2018, 1,503 people had been waiting more than two years — more than treble the figure of 468 in March last year.
Helen Howell, from Bangor in Co Down, told the News Letter: “I was referred by my GP for a review appointment and I was waiting nearly a year.
“In my book, it was urgent. I decided to go privately because I couldn’t get an appointment. I’m certainly not happy with the length of time I had to wait. It is too long for any patient, but it is especially too long for a neurology patient because neurology covers very complex conditions. There are very, very serious conditions with neurology. Mine (Guillain Barre Syndrome) was one of them. I could have died from it.”
Another neurology patient, 24-year-old Kerri-Ann Flanagan who has been told she may have MS, spoke to the Nolan Show. She said she had been told she may have to wait 12 months for an appointment.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” she said. “Not only have me and my family had to deal with the prospect of me having MS and how that affects my entire life, but the idea that I won’t even be able to be seen – never mind start treatment – in a year, it just seems unbelievable.”
A Belfast Trust spokesperson said: “Across Northern Ireland there is a shortage of neurology consultants for this complex and high demand service, so demand is outstripping capacity.”