Hospital waiting times: Stormont bosses admit health service can’t cope

Around 95,000 people in Northern Ireland have been waiting more than a year to see a consultant as hospital waiting times continue to grow
Around 95,000 people in Northern Ireland have been waiting more than a year to see a consultant as hospital waiting times continue to grow

The department in charge of the Northern Ireland health service has admitted it is “simply unable to keep pace” as hospital waiting times continue to grow.

More than a third of outpatients are being forced to wait over a year to see a consultant,the latest figures published by the department of health at Stormont show.

At December 31, there were 281,705 people waiting to see a consultant — 94,953 of whom had been waiting for an entire year.

The British Medical Association (BMA), a professional body and trade union for doctors, say “we cannot continue like this”.

The department has also admitted the extra cash secured by the DUP through its deal to prop upTheresa May’s government at Westminster has failed to halt the growth in waiting times.

A spokesperson said: “As has been set out clearly in the past, not least in our Transformation Plan, our service is simply unable to keep pace with growing demands for treatment, despite the best efforts of staff.

“Funding of £30 million has been provided this year which by the end of December had resulted in an additional 79,000 assessments or treatments.

“However, this investment has only managed to slow the overall growth in waiting times - a fact which underlines the scale of the challenge facing the system.”

The department of health added: “Fundamental transformation remains the only long-term answer to this problem.”

Dr Anne Carson, chair of BMA Northern Ireland’s consultant’s committee said: “Every time the waiting list figures come out it is the same story – the number of patients waiting for first appointments and for treatment or further diagnostics increases. This is a totally unacceptable service for our patients.

“We cannot continue like this; if we don’t move swiftly it is hard to see how this situation will be improved.”

She continued: Staff right across healthcare in Northern Ireland are working harder than ever, but without some of the major changes outlined in successive reports nothing will change.”

Dr Carson highlighted a recent report which found that Northern Ireland needs 128 extra doctors every year to keep pace.

UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs said: “A figure of 95,000 outpatients alone waiting longer than a year to see a consultant, out of a population of only 1.8million, is as staggering as it is terrifying.

“The £30m funding package, an attempted short term fix made available through the DUP/Conservative confidence and supply arrangement, has simply not worked.”