More people in the Western Trust are waiting over a year for NHS treatment than in all of England, new data shows.
Foyle MLA Mark H. Durkan said it was the baldest proof yet that radical reform of the health system was needed.
Newly-released Department of Health figures show that at the end of June, 14,343 people in the Western Trust were waiting over a year for a first outpatient appointment.
Figures from NHS England, also for June, show just 1,089 patients were waiting more than 52 weeks from ‘referral to treatment’ - a more stringent standard.
Mr. Durkan, the SDLP health spokesman, said: “This is the most stark evidence we have seen - and we see more evidence every day - of the drastic and urgent need for the transformation of our healthcare system.
“These figures are truly staggering and even then I do not believe that they reveal the true extent of how bad it is; how long patients really have to wait or how that wait impacts on their lives.”
The 14,343 people waiting over a year represented 36.5 per cent of the 39,307 patients waiting for a first consultant-led appointment in the Western Trust.
That was the second highest rate in the North.
Thirteen times as many patients were waiting over a year for an appointment than were waiting from ‘referral to treatment’ in the whole of England.
“The situation here is getting worse by the week and a complete failure of political leadership from DUP and Sinn Féin as well as Tory austerity is preventing the action and investment necessary to turn things around,” claimed Mr. Durkan.
Mr. Durkan continued: “Meanwhile, people here are suffering on waiting lists. Many people’s lives are put on hold; this is affecting people’s ability to work, to function fully, to exercise, to socialise and inevitably there is a further detrimental impact on people’s mental health as a result.”
The Department of Health told the ‘Journal’ it shared the widespread frustration and concern over hospital waiting times.
The paper put the NHS England comparison to the Department and it reiterated its position that more cash will need to be allocated to reduce long waits.
A spokesperson said: “We have been clear that substantial and sustained investment will be required to address the waiting time backlog.
“Financial pressures over successive years have created this backlog. With the overall health budget constrained, limited funding has been available from 2014 to suppress waiting time growth.
“The NI health budget continues to face significant pressures. At the same time, there are many competing demands for additional spending across different parts of the health and social care system.
“As the Department has said many times, it cannot spend money it does not have.
“The Department is examining options to facilitate public engagement on budgetary choices.
“The health service belongs to us all and everyone has a stake in decisions on funding priorities and making the best use of limited resources.”
The ‘Journal’ asked the Western Trust for its analysis on the figures but none was available at the time of going to Press last night.
Mr. Durkan said the long waiting times locally yet again demonstrated the need for a Graduate Entry Medical School at the Ulster University, Magee College campus.
“Again,this adds to the case for a new Medical School here in Derry but frustratingly that project is another one that is being delayed by the Stormont stand off,” he said.
Another factor that may influence the disparity between waiting times in England and waiting times in the North of Ireland may be targets.
For example, NHS England introduced a zero tolerance of any referral to treatment waits of more than 52 weeks in 2013/14.
In the North, however, the target date for no patient to be waiting longer than 52 weeks for an outpatient appointment is March 2020.