SF in firing line as health waiting times grow worse

Robbie Butler said Michelle O'Neill should 'wise up' and get back into government
Robbie Butler said Michelle O'Neill should 'wise up' and get back into government

Almost every single statistic concerning hospital waiting times has grown worse over the past year, it has emerged – leading the UUP to say that Sinn Fein must “wise up” and stop blocking the formation of a government.

The figures – released by the Province’s Department of Health on Thursday morning – were branded “very worrying” for patients by Cancer Research UK.

Waiting time targets were missed in six out of the seven categories in total.

What is more, six out of the seven categories saw performance grow worse when compared to the same time a year earlier.

The fresh quarterly batch of statistics is based on a snapshot of the health service taken on March 31 this year.

The biggest waiting list by far was the one for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

As of March 31, 176,276 patients – 69.6% of the total – were waiting more than nine weeks for such an appointment.

A year earlier, the figure had been had been 136,036 – or 63.2%.

The target is for a maximum of only 50% of patients to be waiting up to nine weeks.

Meanwhile, 21% of patients had been waiting over 52 weeks for the same thing, compared with 11.4% at the same time last year.

The target is for nobody at all to have to wait 52 weeks.

Targets were also breached for the proportion of people waiting for more than 13 weeks and 52 weeks for inpatient or day care admission – and the statistics were worse than last year.

Still more targets were breached for the proportion of patients waiting longer than 26 weeks for a diagnostic test, and for reporting all urgent diagnostic test results to the referring clinician – and the statistics were worse than last year.

The only target to have been met was that 75% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test, and the sole area to have improved over the year was that more urgent diagnostic tests were reported in the two-day target time (even though all such test reporting is supposed to hit this target).

Currently there is no health minister due to the collapse of the Stormont government, and the NHS is being run by civil servants.

UUP Lagan Valley candidate Robbie Butler said a functioning government “could take the emergency measures needed to tackle the crisis” in waiting lists.

“The reason targets exist is because the longer patients are forced to wait for treatment the greater harm they may ultimately come to. It was therefore frightening to learn that so many people have been forced to linger on a waiting list for longer than a year.”

He added: “Barely a day passes without Sinn Fein representatives in the Republic warning of one problem or another in the health service.

“Yet here in Northern Ireland, where we are genuinely in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, Sinn Fein appear content to put their own politicking ahead of the welfare of local patients.

“I would urge Michelle O’Neill to wise up and realise that people are coming to harm. She is a former health minister – there is simply no doubt that she knows exactly the impact the current impasse is having on patients.”

Picking up on another area of the waiting time statistics, Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager for Northern Ireland, said it was “very worrying” that about a third of patients were waiting over nine weeks for diagnostic tests, saying “some of these people might have a symptom that could be cancer”.

She said the statistics “are a clear indication that the health service in Northern Ireland is not coping with increased demand”.