Derry patients face 13 month wait to see brain specialist

Altnagelvin Hospital
Altnagelvin Hospital

Derry patients are being told they’ll have to wait more than a year to see a brain specialist.

The Journal has learned that some patients in the Western Health and Social Care Trust are being told they will have to wait 13 months after referral for an initial consultation, the target for which is just nine weeks.

In February, after the ‘Journal’ revealed that some patients were waiting a year for an outpatient consultation, the Trust set a new target to drive down waiting times to 50 weeks. By March, the Trust had achieved its target with an average waiting time of 38 weeks, followed by 47 weeks in April. However, last month’s average waiting time was 51 weeks while one patient who contacted the ‘Journal’ this week said she was told she faced a 13 month wait for a first appointment.

The woman, who suffers frequent severe headaches/migraines and vertigo, said: “I was initially told waiting times were around 7 months. Now I’ve been told it could be up to 13 months before I’m seen. The waiting and worrying is exceptionally stressful and is taking its toll on my mental health as well as my physical health.”

Geraldine Hillick, Western Trust Director of Acute Services, admitted that the demand for neurology services “remains greater than the capacity the Trust has to deliver the service”. Ms Hillick stressed that the waiting times referred to were for “routine referrals”, stating that urgent cases “are seen much more quickly, usually within nine weeks”.

She added: “The Trust is committed to reducing waiting times for patients and clinical staff have been undertaking additional sessions as part of efforts to reduce the length of time patients are waiting. Ongoing discussions are taking place with the Health and Social Care Board [which funds the Trust] in relation to the capacity issues.”

SDLP Health spokesperson Mark H Durkan said the current waiting times are “completely unacceptable”. “There is clearly a very serious capacity issue with regard to neurology services and it is of the utmost importance that the situation is addressed as soon as possible.

“The longer serious conditions go unchecked the more it costs both in terms of a patient’s health and in financial terms.”