Urgent call to cut hospital waiting lists

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A Lisburn councillor has claimed that outpatient waiting times at the Lagan Valley Hospital have more than quadrupled in the past year.

Councillor Robbie Butler said he was “absolutely shocked” that the waiting lists for consultant-led outpatient appointments at the Lisburn hospital had increased so dramatically between 2014 and 2015.

Mr Butler revealed that the numbers waiting for such appointments at the Lagan Valley Hospital had rocketed from 735 for people waiting over 15 weeks on 30 September 2014 to 3,146 on 30 September 2015 for people waiting over 18 weeks.

Mr Butler urged the Health Minister Simon Hamilton MLA to “urgently implement a workable plan to cut the waiting lists for patients waiting over the maximum time for a first consultant-led outpatient appointments”.

The Lisburn councillor continued: “The official government target is that nobody should have to wait longer than 18 weeks for their first appointment with a consultant.

“Unfortunately, however, the number of people waiting longer than this in Lagan Valley Hospital has jumped dramatically from 2014 to last year. The revelation that so many people are waiting longer in the Lagan Valley Hospital than what the Minister and the Department of Health says should be the very maximum is totally outrageous.

“Each of those 3,146 people waiting longer than 18 weeks in the Lagan Valley have been badly failed and totally let down by the Health Minister.

“Among those lingering on the list there will be people anxiously awaiting a further test or diagnosis, as well as many others in pain and discomfort awaiting treatment. The plight of some of the people coming to my colleagues and I regarding the delays is heartbreaking.

“It is deeply regrettable that as these figures reveal a spiralling situation in our local hospital, the current Health Minister is more interested in sound bites than actually delivering and improving services for local patients.”

South Eastern Health Trust Director of Hospital Services Mr Seamus McGoran said that demand for hospital services continues to grow beyond the capacity available to the South Eastern Trust.

“Increased waiting lists is a regional challenge and is not specific to the South Eastern HSC Trust,” said Mr McGoran. “The financial constraints within public services led to a decision in July 2014 to suspend additional clinics within our hospitals and within the Independent Sector.

“This additional activity had allowed Trusts to maintain waiting times at a more acceptable level. Unfortunately, the loss of this capacity coupled with further increases in demand for services has led to increased waiting times for all specialties.

“The Health & Social Care Board in late November 2015 identified resources specifically to address waiting times for both outpatient and treatment waits.

“The Trust has been working to contract with the Independent Sector and to deliver additional in-house activity. This resource is currently available until 31 March 2016 and the Trust will endeavour to ensure as many patients as possible are seen and treated within this very short time frame.

“This additional resource will improve the current longest waiting times, but a more sustainable solution needs to be found to ensure that waits continue to be at a more acceptable time frame.

“The Trust will continue to work with the Health and Social Care Board, which commissions services for the public, to pursue investment for the creation of more capacity within our hospitals.

“The South Eastern HSC Trust very much regrets the increasing waiting times being experienced by our patients, particularly as we had considerably reduced waiting times in previous years.”