WAITING times for health appointments and procedures have grown since the start of the pandemic, but the Health Minister has warned patients should expect to wait even longer as the crisis drags on.
The stark reality of the impact Covid-19 has been having on our health service has been officially laid bare in the Department of Health’s latest quarterly release of waiting time figures. The numbers reveal a steady rise in the number of people awaiting appointments and procedures.
Diagnostic test waiting times, for example, have risen by 14.6 percent between the second and third quarter last year. Diagnostic test reporting turnaround times have increased by over 45 percent.
Meanwhile, waiting times for inpatient and day case admissions have risen 14.2 percent over the same period, while the number of people waiting for their first outpatient appointment has risen by 6.9 percent.
Health Minster Robin Swann said waiting lists were expected to grow even more in the months ahead.
“I very much regret that the number of people enduring excessive waits for assessment or treatment has increased again. Unfortunately this position can be expected to worsen further,” he said.
Minister Swann added: “Battling the pandemic as well as maintaining non-Covid services as much as possible has been a balancing act and I am grateful to HSC staff for their resilience and efforts.
“In any other walk of life, it would have been natural to wind things down after the first surge as we moved into summer. Health service staff did not do that, but instead redoubled their efforts.”
Minister Swann said the Executive needed to prioritise tackling waiting lists next year, despite its predicted budget constraints.
Below is a breakdown of the waiting times figures for the Western Trust, which shows almost half of local patients are waiting over a year for in and out patient appointments.
A total of 19,174 patients were awaiting a diagnostic test in the Western Trust, as of September 30. Just over 29 percent of Western Trust patients, a total of 5,618, were waiting more than 26 weeks. The northern average across all trusts was 44.8 percent.
Once a patient has their diagnostic test carried out, the Department’s target is that all results should be reported within two days. During the quarter ending on September 30th, none of the North’s trusts met that target, however the Western Trust came closest, reporting 91.8 percent of urgent diagnostic test results within the two day target.
Inpatient and day cases
A total of 20,521 patients were awaiting for admission for either as an inpatient or a day case in the Western Trust, as of September 30.
This was the second longest waiting list in the North, with more waiting only at the Belfast Trust.
Almost half of those waiting at the Western Trust, 9,722 patients, were awaiting longer than 52 weeks.
As of September 30, there were 43,562 patients awaiting their first consultant-led outpatient appointment at the Western Trust.
No trust in the North met the Department of Health’s nine week target for a first appointment. The Western Trust had reported the lowest number of patients waiting longer than nine weeks, a total of 36,301 accounting for 83.3 percent of its waiting list.
Over 40 percent of patients were waiting more than 52 weeks, a total of 20,355 people, for their first outpatient appointment, lower than the average for all trusts of 47.5 percent.