05/12/2002

Rise in hospital waiting lists 'disappointing' says Browne

Hospital waiting lists have risen by almost 3,500 in the past year – leaving Northern Ireland trailing behind its UK counterparts – according to statistics contained in the health department's quarterly review of waiting lists.

The total number of patients waiting to be admitted to hospitals in Northern Ireland at the end of September 2002 stood at 60,190 – representing an increase of 239 (0.4%) on the last quarter. The trend over five years is on the upward trend compared with 1997's waiting list which stood 45,000 in 1997.

However, in comparison with the end of September 2001, the total number waiting increased by 3,477 (6.1%).

Responding to the figures, NIO minister with responsibility for health, Des Browne, conceded the news was "disappointing" and called for an "all-out effort" from the health and social services to reduce lengthening hospital waiting lists.

"Although the overall increase is very small, it is nevertheless, evidence that efforts to tackle waiting lists need to be re-doubled,” he said.

“Extra money has been put into hospital services this year; all the hospital Trusts now have waiting list action plans aimed at increasing efficiency and improving access to services. Already there are signs that this action is beginning to take effect. For example, half the Trusts were able to report a fall in numbers waiting.”

Mr Browne said that the news was not all bad as three-quarters of inpatients treated between July and September waited for less than three months and, he said, 95% waited for less than a year for their treatment.

There were drops registered in specific areas such as ordinary admissions, which saw a fall of 559 on the previous quarter to 28,791.

However, inpatients waiting 12 months or more for admission to cardiac surgery and those having to wait 18 months or more to other specialties rose by 2.6% on last quarter to 9,158. That figure represents a rise of 1,413 (18.2%) on 2001's mark.

SDLP health spokesperson, Annie Courtney, said: "These figures are deeply disappointing and a sure sign of poor management on the part of the Department of Health.

She accused the health department of mismanaging the "millions of pounds" pumped into the service since devolution in 1999, as "Northern Ireland now has the worst waiting figures in the UK".

Ms Courtney added: "The institutions need to be restored as soon as possible, local people need their local ministers and assembly members reinstated so that once again they have a voice that will be heard."

(GMcG)

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