Health waiting times grow even worse

A general view of a hospital corridor
A general view of a hospital corridor

Crucial health service waiting list times have continued to worsen, according to the latest set of figures released today.

Quarterly statistics relating to how long people are waiting for a first appointment and to receive their test results, plus others, have been released by the Department for Health.

They show the performance of the Province’s NHS – which, like other areas of the public sector, is currently run solely by civil servants and not elected politicians – is continuing to deteriorate.

Similar sets of figures in recent years have shown NHS targets repeatedly being missed, and a widening gap between health managers’ objectives and the real outcomes.

In response to the figures, particularly the ones about reporting times for tests, Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK’s public affairs manager for Northern Ireland, said in a statement: “It’s worrying that people in Northern Ireland are still waiting too long for tests – a symptom of a Health Service hindered by lack of direction.

“Quick access to tests is a vital part of diagnosing cancer early, and some of these people might have cancer. Patients must be diagnosed and treated early if they are to have the best chance of surviving cancer.

“New projects to transform the Health Service in Northern Ireland, including improvements to diagnostic services, have all been put on hold in the absence of an Executive and Assembly.

The hard figures:

As of June 30 this year (unless otherwise stated), these were how the Province’s waiting lists stood in relation to their targets.

A first consultant-led outpatient appointment:

Target:

At least 50% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

No patient should wait longer than 52 weeks.

Reality:

71.6% of patients (or 189,289) were waiting more than nine weeks, compared with 64.8% (146,167) on the same date last June.

Meanwhile 24.2% (64,074) of patients were waiting more than 52 weeks, compared with 13.4% (30,170) on the same date last year.

The overall number of patients on the waiting list was 264,451 - up by 17.2% (38,858) on June 30, 2016.

The outpatient waiting list figures presented do not include a number of maternity specialties.

Inpatient and day case admission:

Target:

By March 2018, 55% of patients should wait no longer than 13 weeks for inpatient or day case treatment, with no patient waiting longer than 52 weeks.

Reality:

59% (42,732) of patients were waiting more than 13 weeks, compared with 53.1% (37,308) at June 30, 2017.

At June 30 this year, 15.5% (11,261) of patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for either an inpatient or day case admission, compared with 9.7% (6,787) at the same date last year.

Overall, 10.7% fewer patients had received inpatient and day case treatment in the quarter leading up to June 30 this year, compared with the same date in June 2016.

Diagnostic services:

Target:

By March 2018, 75% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test, with no patient waiting longer than 26 weeks.

Reality:

At June 30 this year, 43.5% (47,624) of patients were waiting longer than nine weeks, compared with 34.5% (33,593) at the same date a year earlier.

Meanwhile 11.6% (12,694) of patients were waiting more than 26 weeks, compared with 7.1% (6,934) on June 30, 2016.

Diagnostic reporting turnaround times:

Target:

All urgent diagnostic tests (including things like MRI scans and X-rays) should be reported on within two days of the test.

Reality:

As of the quarter ending in March this year, 87.7% were reported on within two days, compared with 87.3% for the same period last year.