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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 10:44 GMT
Waiting lists hit all-time high
Patients are having to wait longer for procedures
Patients are having to wait longer for procedures
Northern Ireland's hospital waiting lists have once again hit an all-time high.

Last March, Health Minister Bairbre de Brun said she would have the hospital queue down to 48,000 by this month.

But the latest figures, released on Thursday, show that by the end of December, the queue had actually lengthened to nearly 58,000.

The number of people who have been waiting in excess of patients' charter standards has also got worse.

Bairbre de Brun: Health minister
Bairbre de Brun: Health minister

There are now 8,300 people who have waited more than 12 months for heart surgery or 18 months in other specialities.

However, the number of people in the outpatients' queue has dipped by nearly 3,000 to just over 130,000.

Responding to the figures, Ms de Brun renewed her pledge to reduce waiting lists.

"This reinforces the need for the focused action that has already started on increasing efficiency and improving effectiveness in hospital services to continue until these numbers are reducing," she said.

The minister said the great majority of patients did not have to wait for treatment.

"Most people are being treated very promptly. In fact, 75% of inpatients seen during the last three months of 2001 had been on the waiting list for less than three months, and 95% of inpatients treated during the December quarter had been on the waiting list for less than 12 months."


It is extremely disappointing that they are rising rather than decreasing

Monica McWilliams,
Women's Coalition

Last year, the Northern Ireland Executive announced an extra 41m to help ease the situation.

Women's Coalition Assembly Member Monica McWilliams said she was concerned that the department was not meeting targets

The assembly health committee member added: "It is extremely disappointing that they are rising rather than decreasing, given the extra money that has been put in over the last year in order to get waiting lists down."

'Six times higher'

Last month, it emerged that Northern Ireland had the worst hospital waiting lists in Europe.

For some years it has had the longest queues in the United Kingdom - but now it is actually the worst in the European Union.

There are 15 countries in the EU and 11 of them keep national waiting list totals.

Four countries do not keep national totals, but do keep track of how long people have to wait for treatment.

Overall, these countries say their treatment is faster than that in Northern Ireland.

Portugal's queue was about 10,000 people longer than in Northern Ireland - but its population is about six times higher.

Denmark, with a population of just over 5 million, had 85,000 people waiting more than three months for treatment.

In Northern Ireland, the health boards are in breach of charter standards if patients have been waiting more than 12 months for heart surgery - or 18 months for everything else.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Dot Kirby:
"The queue has now actually lengthened"
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Northern Ireland
NI waiting lists 'worst in Europe'
11 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Action urged over health service crisis
03 Dec 01 | Northern Ireland
Durkan reveals health cash boost
11 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Waiting lists at record level
13 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
NI waiting lists 'highest in UK'
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