ALMOST half of all patients waiting for an outpatient appointment with the Western Trust have been waiting more than a year, and the situation is only expected to get worse.
Last week the Department of Health published waiting time statistics for the first four months of the year. The report revealed over 300,000 people across the north are currently waiting to see a consultant for the first time.
However, with the figures only updated until March it is expected the waiting lists continue to grow in length as the health service continues to cope with the consequences of Covid.
Despite its waiting time figures appearing quite high, though, the Western Trust performed relatively well compared to other trusts in the North. However it is thought that trusts with a higher ccaseload of specialist services – primarily Belfast – would be expected to have longer waiting times.
A total of 87.7 percent of local patients were waiting more than nine weeks for their outpatient appointment, while 40 percent were waiting more than 52 weeks. This was one of the lowest waiting time for outpatients of any of the five trusts.
With regard inpatients and day cases, there were 20,985 patients on the Trust’s list, while there were 18,277 on the Trust’s diagnostic waiting list, making it the shortest list in the North.
As for Cancer care, the Western Trust had been performing best, with 100 percent of patients beginning their treatment within 14 days every month for the first three months of this year, the only trust in the North do so.
However, this target was missed in March when the figure dropped to 94 percent, and data is not yet available for the months during lockdown.
Health Minister Robin Swann said the figures were a stark illustration the difficulties facing the health service as it tried to restore its services post-lockdown, stating waiting lists were “far beyond being unacceptable.” He said it in the months ahead it will be a “massive challenge” running both Covid and non-Covid services.
“Work to rebuild services will take time and will be entirely dependant on the path Covid will take,” said Minister Swann. “It is inevitable that there will be further hospital based outbreaks and clusters in the months ahead.
“Infection control measures are going to be with for us for some time and inevitably, despite our rebuilding efforts, this will have an adverse impact on waiting times for procedures. Trusts are doing all that they can to maximise theatre and bed capacity.”
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