Hospital waiting lists soar in Northern Ireland

Doctors and nurses’ representatives call for ‘fundamental’ change to tackle problem

 Representative bodies are calling for reform to address extended hospital waiting lists in the North. Photograph: PA

Representative bodies are calling for reform to address extended hospital waiting lists in the North. Photograph: PA


The Minister for the Health on the Northern Ireland Executive Simon Hamilton has stated he remains “100 per cent committed” to tackling hospital waiting lists after it was disclosed that there are more than 400,000 patients on waiting lists in Northern Ireland who have experienced delays of three months to more than a year.

Doctors and nurses representatives in the North have called for fundamental changes to address the waiting list problem in Northern Ireland.

Recent figures also show that the number of patients waiting more than a year for a major operation in the North has tripled over a nine-month period to almost 7,000. This compares unfavourably with England where, in December, 755 people were waiting longer than a year for operations.

First assessment

The Irish News, citing figures revealed this month by the North’s Health and Social Care Board, also reported that that there has been an eight-fold increase in the number of people waiting for their first assessment with a hospital consultant.

Under Department of Health targets, no one should wait more than 18 weeks for their first hospital outpatient appointment following a doctor’s referral. The figures to November show that there are more than 400,000 people on waiting lists out of a population of 1.8 million.

“The increase in waiting times is a reflection of the stress the health service is currently under in Northern Ireland. Longer waiting lists will likely remain a problem until fundamental issues are addressed within the health service,” said Dr John D Woods of the British Medical Association (BMA).

“The main problem the health service faces is insufficient capacity; the BMA have consistently argued that we need services to change in order to address these problems,” added Dr Woods.

Quality of life

Garrett Martin of the Royal College of Nursing in the North said the figures were “unacceptable and should not be acceptable as the norm”.

“There are very few families in Northern Ireland who do not know somebody, or have somebody, on that waiting list. There is a real quality of life issue here and in extreme cases there is no doubt about it that patients die on waiting lists as well,” he said.

The Mr Hamilton said that in November that he provided £47.6 million (€60 million) of additional funding to address waiting lists.

“This funding has allowed the service to start tackling waiting lists and is expected to benefit some 60,000-70,000 patients,” he said.

“I want to continue with that investment and to build the momentum necessary to address waiting lists. I remain 100 per cent committed to dealing with waiting lists,” added Mr Hamilton.