The blame for “patients’ suffering” has been put on the political failings of the DUP and Sinn Fein at Stormont.
The DUP have hit back saying the millions it has secured from the government for health reforms “has not been fully utilised because Sinn Fein has blocked the Executive being restored”.
Sinn Fein in turn said the DUP’s backing of “Tory austerity” undermines efforts to transform the health service.
Statistics released yesterday showed that despite the Department of Health’s key commitment that not a single person should wait more than 52 weeks for their first appointment with a consultant, more than 80,000 patients have been on a waiting list for over a year.
While those people waiting more than 52 weeks for their first outpatient appointment has almost doubled from 47,072 to 80,651, so too has the number of patients waiting more than a year for either an inpatient or day case admission – growing from 8,470 to 14,979 in the past 12 months.
UUP health spokesperson Roy Beggs said the health crisis in Northern Ireland is “major and unprecedented”.
He said: “Never before in the NHS’s 70-year history have so many local people been waiting, and for such appalling lengths of time.
“Our health service urgently needs a period of intensive support, stability and longer-term planning. Yet an Irish language act has received more attention by DUP and Sinn Fein negotiators over the last fortnight, than the problems in our health service have received in the last 12 months.”
Alliance’s health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said: “People on waiting lists are suffering, which is a direct consequence of political failure and inaction on behalf of the two biggest parties.”
Susan Hill, vice president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said: “Waiting times for surgery in the health service in NI are completely unacceptable and this is especially clear when you compare the numbers with England and Wales.”
She added: “Political instability, the lack of leadership and failure to put in place a budget for much-needed reforms in Northern Ireland, continue to undermine efforts to reduce these excessively long waits.”
DUP MLA Paula Bradley said: “The former health minister – Michelle O’Neill – will have been well aware of the pressures facing our health service when SF took the decision to collapse Stormont and place narrow political demands as preconditions to the Executive’s restoration.
“The DUP secured £100m from Westminster for immediate pressures in schools and hospitals. We also secured £200m for health reforms and £50m for mental health. This additional money has not been fully utilised because SF has blocked the Executive being restored.
“We want to see that money being used to benefit the public as soon as possible. That’s why Arlene Foster called time on the talks and asked for the prime minister to make the necessary decisions in Westminster.”
Sinn Fein’s Pat Sheehan said waiting lists need to be tackled through “sufficiently funded transformation” as laid out in Michelle O’Neill’s ‘Delivering Together’ plan.
He said: “Continued DUP-backed Tory austerity only undermines efforts to transform health and fail to address excessive waiting lists.”
Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board said the “system is under huge pressure”, adding: “While additional investment, if available, would allow us to bring waiting lists down in the short to medium-term, the only long-term answer is to continue to transform services.”