06/03/2003

Northern Ireland inpatient waiting list drops by 2,500

Figures released today have revealed that waiting lists for inpatient treatment have dropped by 2,500 people over the past quarter - the first reduction in waiting lists since December 1999.

The number of people who have been waiting more than 18 months also fell by almost 9% - the first reduction in long waiters since March 1999. Statistics from the four health boards across the province now give a total of 56,000 people waiting for treatment.

NIO Health Minister Des Browne welcomed the news, saying: “This reduction in waiting lists is very good news for patients. Obviously there is still a long way to go, but this shows clearly that the efforts we have been putting into this area, particularly in improving the management of waiting lists, are now beginning to bear fruit. I believe that we have created a solid foundation for more progress in the future.”

The Minister added: “Demand for hospital services continues to grow, both for planned surgery and for emergency treatment. The fact that the service has not only been able to absorb this pressure, but to reduce the numbers waiting, is evidence of the effort that staff in our hospitals are making. They deserve to be commended for this.”

The drop in figures is largely due to hospitals getting money to set up initiatives to target waiting lists. However, over the past year, Northern Ireland hospitals have been found to have the worst waiting list figures per capita in the EU.

Ulster Unionist health spokesman the Rev Robert Coulter has called for a shake up in the NHS to address the problem.

The UUP assembly member said that more consultants were needed in acute hospitals to ease pressures and so allow more resources for “genuine emergency cases”.

He also called for additional social services support including a re-examination of nursing home provision.

“If beds had been available in nursing homes for patients to recover from surgery, there would have been many more beds available in hospitals,” he said.

SDLP assembly member and former chair of the Stormont health committee, Dr Joe Hendron said there should be "no sour grapes about this achievement".

"Nonetheless, there is still a long way to go to completely solve the waiting list problems in the north and more funding is required for hospitals to help to do this," he said.

Referring to a small decrease in the numbers waiting for outpatient appointments, the Health Minister said: “The number of people waiting for an outpatient appointment are also down. It is important that we build on what has been achieved so far in terms of inpatient waiting lists. I shall now be looking to the service to focus effort over coming months on improving waiting times for outpatients also."

(EOH)

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