Page last updated at 11:02 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Jump in outpatient waiting lists

The Department of Health releases its waiting list statistic
The health minister said hospitals are under 'severe strain'

There has been a huge increase in the number of people who have waited longer than they should have for a first outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland's hospitals.

The target states that patients should have an appointment within nine weeks.

Department of Health figures show that 4,500 people waited more than nine weeks in September 2009.

But by December 2009 the number of people waiting more than nine weeks had shot up to almost 16,000.

Ministerial targets also state that people should wait no longer than 13 weeks for admission as an inpatient.

That waiting list is continuing to increase too - the figures showed that, at the end of December, there were 6,010 patients waiting longer than 13 weeks, compared to 2,975 in the previous quarter.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey blamed the fact that health trusts had suspended "waiting list work" until he received clarity on how much money he would have to tackle a potential swine flu epidemic.

That budget was only finalised in October.

'Severe strain'

The minister said the further rise in waiting times was "disappointing."

However, he added that the vast majority of patients continue to receive their care and treatment within a reasonable period and that hospital waiting times have improved over the longer term

He said: "Hospital waiting times have significantly improved in recent years and are unrecognisable compared to 2005, when under direct rule patients had to endure unacceptably long waits."

He also warned that the health service is operating under "severe strain."

"In the past two years alone, there has been an increase of some 20% demand for hospital services, yet our funding has only increased by 0.5% in real terms, the lowest rise in living memory," he added.

The minister said the increase in demand in the first nine months of 2009-10 was equal to around 35,000 additional first outpatient appointments and 9,000 more inpatient and daycase procedures.



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Rise in outpatient waiting lists
03 Dec 09 |  Northern Ireland

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