Ulster Unionist Party Health Spokesperson, Jo-Anne Dobson MLA, has warned that waiting lists for appointments in Northern Ireland hospitals are spiralling out of control.
The Upper Bann MLA said;
“The number of patients waiting for a first outpatient appointment at the end of December 2014 stood at almost 172,000. This was over 57,000 more than at the end of the same month in 2013; a shocking increase of almost 50%.
“In addition even though there is a target that at least 80% of patients should wait no longer than 9 weeks for their appointment, out of all patients waiting at the end of December 2014 55.5% were waiting more than that length of time. The next target is then that no one should wait more than 15 weeks and this was also widely missed as it has now been revealed over 61,000 patients, or 35% of the total number, were waiting in excess of this.
“Forcing so many people with sometimes with painful and debilitating conditions to wait in excess of almost four months to see doctors is cruel. In fact there are laws to stop people keeping animals in such a state.
“The deteriorating state of our waiting lists demonstrates that the crisis in our health service is deepening. Worryingly however, the scale of the financial black hole in our health service is so severe that the situation is certain to become even worse.
“In 2011 many people warned, including my own Party that the budget settlement for the next four years was totally inadequate. At the time we listed other areas of expenditure which we said money should have been taken from to ensure our health service remained viable. Nevertheless it was only in the middle of 2014 that the then Minister, Edwin Poots, set political pride aside and said our hospitals needed significant and urgent additional funding. Unfortunately by that stage it was too late to ensure key services such as keeping outpatient appointments under control were not adversely affected.
“Worryingly at this time I still see no answer from the Department or the Minister as to how they are going to get a grip of the worsening state of our health service. Whilst the Budget settlement for 2015/16 did include an additional allocation of over £150m, this is entirely offset by £220m of pressures being carried forward from 2014/15. It is frightening what is coming.
“Every one of our five Health Trusts do not have the resources they need to meet genuine demand. It is more than ‘regrettable’ as the Department describe it – it is shameful”