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NI Health Minister Bairbre de Brun
"The problem emerged due to underfunding"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
NI waiting lists 'highest in UK'
Minister's waiting list pledge did not materialise
Minister's waiting list pledge did not materialise
Northern Ireland's hospital waiting lists are the longest in the UK and are getting worse, according to figures from the Department of Health.

The total number of people waiting for hospital treatment across the province is now 47,323 - nearly 2,500 more than the previous year.

It has emerged due to underfunding of the services here over a number of years, particularly in 1996, with the last British Conservative Government

Bairbre de Brun
Although the government's patients' charter says no-one should wait longer than 18 months for treatment, the figures show 5,293 people had waited longer than that, by March 2000.

However, Northern Ireland's health minister Bairbre de Brun has pledged to try to deal with the problem.

She said: "I am concerned that so many people are having to wait for treatment.

"Clearly, the pressures created by the problems last winter had an impact on the numbers, as many operations and procedures had to be postponed.

"We must now work to improve the position and I am committed to addressing this issue and bringing waiting lists down.''

The Sinn Fein minister said it was a problem the Northern Ireland Assembly had inherited due to years of underfunding.

Bairbre de Brun:
Bairbre de Brun: "Underfunding problem"
"It has emerged due to underfunding of the services here over a number of years, particularly in 1996, with the last British Conservative Government.

"You had a 3% cut in the health and social services budgets here and that money has never been put back."

The Department of Health said 85% of those waiting for inpatient treatment needed treatment in either general surgery, ENT, gynaecology, trauma and orthopaedics, ophthalmology, urology or plastic surgery.

Just over two years ago when about 47,000 people were on the waiting lists of Northern Ireland's hospital trusts, the then health minister, Tony Worthington, promised the new Labour government would reduce the queue to 39,000 in the in-coming year.

Although in the rest of the UK, attempts to reduce the queues for hospital treatment have been successful, they have not in Northern Ireland.

After Mr Worthington's pledge, the waiting lists did shorten by about 2,000 but by March 2000, they were back to the same level as when he issued his promise.

Andrew Dougal
Andrew Dougal: Figures are "appalling"
Andrew Dougal of the Chest, Heart and Stroke Association said the organisation warned of such a scenario six months ago and said additional resources were necessary.

"The number of people who are waiting over-time for their operation in hospital has increased by as much as 32%. That is an appalling figure," he said.

"In addition, people who are waiting for their first out-patient appointment - they in number have increased by 20%. So people lose out on two separate occasions.

"If you are cardiac surgery patient, you lose out on three or four occasions because they have to jump through many hoops before they get onto that surgical table."

The statistics published on Tuesday, which cover the three months ending in March, show the queues have grown by 1,200 on the total number at the end of last December.

Flu epidemic

Much of that increase can be attributed to the rise in flu and other winter illnesses over the New Year period.

However, the numbers waiting for treatment at the end of March was down on the peak figure of December 1997, when 48,740 were on waiting lists.

Of people who had been waiting for more than three months for their first outpatient appointment, with a view to becoming an inpatient in March, 31% were waiting for general surgery.

There were 910 or 17% waiting for treatment in trauma and orthopaedics, 864 or 16% for plastic surgery, 670 or 13% for urology, 250 or 5% for ENT, 71 or 1% for ophthalmology, 42 or 1% for gynaecology.

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