The NHS in Northern Ireland is facing an “unprecedented crisis” after it was revealed more than 80,000 patients were waiting more than a year to see a consultant by the end of 2017.
Figures published by the Department of Health show that by December 31, 2017, 80,651 patients had waited more than 52 weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.
Roy Beggs MLA, Ulster Unionist Health spokesman, said the figures were “frightening”.
“There is a major and unprecedented crisis in our health service,” 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.
“It is shocking and outrageous that at the end of December 2017 there were 80,651 people waiting for over a year for their first appointment with a consultant. The figure in the same period the year before was just over 47,000.”
Mr Beggs said the size of the increase in just 12 months illustrates the pace at which the problems in the health service are escalating.
He added: “Tragically we are now long past the point of some patients coming to harm as a result of the delays.
“The fact that so many people and conditions are now being pacified with pain relief, rather than actually receiving treatment for the problem, is simply appalling.
“It wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and it shouldn’t be tolerated here.
“Our health service urgently needs a period of intensive support, stability and longer-term planning.”
NHS targets state that at least 50% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, with no patient waiting longer than a year.
More than three quarters of patients (76.2%, 206,983) waited for more than nine weeks.
In a statement, the Health and Social Care Board said waiting times experienced by many patients continued to be “unacceptable.”
The board said a number of factors- including a growing older population, increased demand for services and a lack of funding- was putting the health service under huge pressure.
The statement added: “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.
“A range of transformation initiatives, highlighted in the Department of Health’s one-year update report on the strategy to tackle waiting times in Northern Ireland, show that progress is being made.
“These include primary care alternatives to hospital referrals which will enable patients to receive high quality assessment and treatment more quickly, and which will help to free up appointments and treatment for urgent and complex cases in secondary care.
“Rolling out such new pathways across Northern Ireland will require funding support, as part of the drive to transform care.”
Belfast Telegraph Digital