02/09/2005

Outpatient hospital waiting list figures rise

The number of people waiting for a first outpatient appointment has increased in the last three months by almost 6%.

The figures published by the Department of Health revealed that the number of patients waiting for an initial outpatient consultation had risen by 9,385 to 176,523, an increase of 5.6% on the previous quarter.

The inpatient waiting list showed a 7% fall in the total number of patients waiting for inpatient treatment over the year - a decrease by 98 over the quarter to 47,425.

Commenting on the outpatient figures, the Health Minister Shaun Woodward said the increase was a "cause for concern".

"Although we have seen a considerable increase in the numbers treated over the last quarter, the health service should be able to cope with such increases in demand," Mr Woodward said. "Therefore later this year I will be announcing detailed proposals to tackle this problem and monitor progress in securing reductions in waiting times for these services.”

He said that the latest waiting list figures confirmed the "desperate need" for reform.

“These figures demonstrate why the announcement I made at the beginning of July to reform inpatient and daycase waiting lists was desperately needed," said Mr Woodward. “We should of course be pleased that 95% of inpatients/daycases and outpatients were seen in less than 12 months in the quarter to June 2005. However, these latest figures again demonstrate why it was essential at the beginning of July to introduce the alternative offer programme to end the intolerable misery facing patients waiting more than 12 months.

“They also demonstrate why every Trust in Northern Ireland is committed to meeting the target to have nobody waiting more than 12 months for inpatient or daycase treatment by March 2006."

Mr Woodward said that he was implementing "immediately" recommendations requiring every Trust to establish weekly arrangements for monitoring waiting lists and said that in certain circumstances patients would receive an alternative offer of treatment from the newly established Northern Ireland Patient Offer Centre.

Wile the number of patients waiting more than 12 months has decreased slightly, the number of patients waiting over 18 months has increased.

The Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke Association branded the figures "totally unacceptable," claiming that more than half of those waiting for a first cardiology appointment have to wait more than three months and that 8% of patients have to wait more than 12 months.

However, the Association welcomed the Minister’s decision to establish arrangements for monitoring waiting lists on a weekly basis.

(SP/MB)

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