The Ulster Unionist Party has lambasted Sinn Fein for putting “an Irish language act ahead of the safety of local patients” as waiting lists continue to spiral.
The party’s health spokesperson, Roy Beggs MLA, made the comments following the publication of waiting times.
The figures show that some 272,656 people are on the waiting list for a first hospital outpatient appointment with a consultant, a rise of 3.1% on the figures from just three months ago and a rise of over 12% on the equivalent figures from last year.
Mr Beggs said: “Northern Ireland’s health service is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Never before have so many people been waiting so long for either a diagnosis or treatment.”
That view was echoed by the British Medical Association, Cancer Research UK and a host of others, who each warned of the need for a new strategy to deal with the long waiting lists.
Mr Beggs, meanwhile, hit out at Sinn Fein for “continuing to politick” despite the growing waiting lists.
He said: “It is despicable that just when all local political parties should be coming together and recognising the gravity of the situation, Sinn Fein continue to put more value on an Irish language act ahead of the safety of local patients.
“Michelle O’Neill, as a former health minister, will know exactly the devastating impact the current impasse is having on patients and their families.
“The fact that she and her party are content to politick ahead of helping people in their hour of greatest need tells us all we need to know about their warped priorities.”
Sinn Fein, however, hit back by describing the UUP as “cheerleaders for Tory austerity cuts”.
MLA Michaela Boyle said: “This is disgraceful commentary from a party which walked away from all its responsibilities to the health service and every other public service in 2016 and which were cheerleaders for Tory austerity cuts which took more than £1bn from our frontline public services such as health and education.
“Scotland, Wales and the south of this country all have public services and Gaelic language acts, rights for the LGBT community and the right to a coroner’s inquest. Roy Beggs and the UUP want to continue to deny these rights to the people of the north and clearly yearn for the apartheid unionist state it presided over for 50 years.
“It’s not going to happen.”