SDLP Health Spokesperson, Mark H Durkan MLA has described the extent of the spiralling waiting lists across the North as ‘utter madness’.
The Department of Health’s quarterly report up to September 30, 2019, reported 300,000 patients waiting for a consultant led appointment - an 8% increase on last year.
Northern Ireland waiting lists were expected to hit an all-time high by the weekend past and the region now holds the worst waiting time statistics in the UK.
The Foyle MLA said: “This is the starkest 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 the situation actually is; how long patients really have to wait or how that wait impacts on their lives.
“It is no wonder that our health staff have taken to the picket lines. Aside from the appalling lack of pay parity, they witness first-hand the every-day decimation of our health system.”
He went on to criticise what he claimed was ‘selfishness and apathy’ present in politics while the health system has declined.
“This is an extremely distressing experience for both health staff and patients. The failure to protect them at this critical juncture is the epitome of selfishness- forfeiting health and well-being for bull-headed politics. Granted the restoration of an Executive is not a panacea but it’s better than standing idly by with hands in pockets watching the health service collapse into chaos. Parts of our health service have already crumbled before our eyes. It demands action not feigned outrage and apathetic head-shaking at what has become a quarterly expectation. Inaction at this point is nothing short of unmitigated culpability.”
The Department of Health has said that while the causes of the continuing growth in waiting times are well documented, the solutions are “extremely challenging”.
A spokesperson said: “They require sustained investment to address backlogs and build our workforce - as well as the radical reshaping of services.
“The number of appointments and treatments being provided has increased over recent years. However, this increase hasn’t been sufficient to keep pace with the growth in demand.
“For a number of years, significant additional investment was made available to help bridge this gap between demand and capacity.
“These extra monies have been in much shorter supply from 2014, due to financial pressures facing the Health and Social Care system and wider public sector. Waiting lists have climbed steadily since then. The Department has publicly apologised to all those waiting too long for appointments and treatment.”