More Delays

Patients are waiting over a year to see a brain specialist at Altnagelvin Hospital, the ‘Journal can reveal.

There are currently 846 outpatients waiting up to 50 weeks for a first neurology appointment at the hospital.

The Western Health Trust has admitted that patients are waiting five times longer than the target waiting time of nine weeks. Even ‘urgent cases’ are being caught up in the backlog. Although it’s been confirmed that ‘red flagged’ cases are “seen much more quickly”, the Trust states that appointments are being arranged “usually within nine weeks”.

The Trust has further admitted that it can’t cope with the current demand for neorology services, although it is “making efforts to deal with this capacity issue”.

Following a meeting in October last year with the Health and Social Care Board - the organisation that funds the Trust - it was agreed that patients should receive a first neurology appointment within 60 weeks. The Trust says that it is planning that the maximum waiting time at the end of March will be “approximately 50 weeks”.

The Trust’s Director of Acute Services, Geraldine Hillick, says only “routine” referrals are currently waiting up to 50 weeks for appointments. She states that all patients on the routine waiting list are first “triaged” and categorised as non urgent.

She admits that a “capacity issue exists” in neorology services but points out that “capacity and demand can change”.

She further states that no patient has waited 60 weeks for a first apointment.

Ms Hillick adds that it “would not be likely” that anyone has died as a result of a neorological related problem after being placed on the ‘routine’ waiting list.

She says the Trust has received funding for additional outreach clinics to help cut the backlog but confirms that they are currently based at the Erne Hospital.

Altnagelvin Hospital currently has two full time consultant neurologists with two outreach consultants commissioned by the Health Board from Belfast Trust working in Derry one day per week and one day per fortnight respectively.

A concerned patient told the ‘Journal’ this week that she’s very worried about the adverse affects to her health of having to wait up to a year to see a specialist.

“I have been waiting more than four months for a consultation with neurolgy due to ongoing severe headaches accompanied with debilitating vertigo. It has put a real strain on my mental health and has been a very real worry. Of course, I fear the worst. “To think I may have to wait another eight months to be seen is shocking and I think to put my mind at rest, I will have to go private.”