It is outrageous that 225,000 outpatients and 70,000 inpatients are trapped on a hospital waiting list, with a further 96,000 people waiting for essential diagnostic tests or results at local hospitals.
Irrespective of the sheer scale of these figures, which at a total of 392,000 now represents more than 1 in 5 of the total local population, we must never forget that these represent 392,000 individual stories of anxiety and often unbearable agony.
Targets for treatment exist because it is very widely accepted that the longer patients are forced to wait for treatment the greater harm they may ultimately come to. The number of people who are waiting far longer than is medically safe has now grown to an unprecedented and terrifyingly high level.
Despite recent decisions by Health Managers to discreetly weaken the targets, such as lengthening the maximum time an outpatient can wait for their first appointment with a consultant from 18 weeks to 52, the situation is deteriorating even quicker than they can massage the figures. The number of outpatients waiting longer than a year for instance has swelled by three times, increasing by 20,000, compared to this time last year.
As the current situation is now significantly worse than what is was a year ago, it demonstrates that the Executive’s haphazard response of ineptly throwing varying amounts of money at the problem is simply not working.
With only weeks until the publication of the Bengoa Report, now more than ever before the Executive needs to set aside its petty politicking of health and realise that until it gets a grip of the crisis people will continue to come to harm. This sadly includes people losing their lives as a result of the delays in essential diagnostic and treatment services.
Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, UUP health spokesperson