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Immediate and sustainable solutions must be found for hospital waiting lists

Maeve Hully

Northern Ireland’s hospital waiting list performance is the worst in the UK - with targets for cancer, A&E and planned operations not being met.

The news this week highlighted hospital waiting times across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The waiting times here are by far the longest when compared to other parts of the UK.

The BBC has launched an online NHS tracker that allows people to see how their local service is performing on three key targets:

  • 4-hour A&E waits
  • 62-day cancer care
  • Planned operations and treatment.

Growing waiting times are a major concern for the people who speak to us. On a daily basis, we hear from people who are concerned about the length of time they are waiting for care. They share with us the personal reality behind these waiting list figures.

People talk about the worry, the emotional stress and the detrimental impact on their physical health while waiting for treatment. They are worried that the waiting will be dangerous to their long-term health outcomes.

As well as the health concerns, people are worried about losing their jobs or their ability to maintain their businesses if their physical health continues to deteriorate.

In the meantime, people try to cope by increasing their medication and pain relief.

Immediate and sustainable solutions to these overlong waiting lists need to be found. 

Behind each waiting time statistic is an individual and often a family enduring significant levels of stress and anxiety.

People need more information about waiting times, so the BBC tracker is to be welcomed. But it is only one small part of the equation. The tracker is available on the BBC website:

Information is also available on Emergency Department waiting times on the NI Direct website:

Information on how to get treatment in the UK and other EU countries is also available from the Health and Social Care Board website:

How would you like to be informed about waiting times?  

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Previous comments ...

Robert Magee 23-Oct-2017 at 14:12 hrs

Waiting lists and financial constraint on Health Trusts is causing severe pressure on all. We are paying highly paid professional management teams to manage our health service!! It is high time their was net return our some clear view of tentative plans to address equation. Surely their have a basic three or five year strategy plan which indicates some course of action.
I am currently awaiting urgent knee replacement, however this is now 18months!! with no visible timetable in view!!
To add to frustration is the inevitable , monthly phone call to try and ascertain a timeframe!! But unfortunately it only adds to frustration to the extend which I have simply given up.
I thought I would look online to day at NI Statistics, but surprise, surprise it only deals with A+E and stats are based on 2013/2014 data!! This about sums every thing!!


Peter Martin 22-Oct-2017 at 15:59 hrs

I don't think the patient should in this day and age have to phone the hospital every so often to see where they are on the waiting list. As a patient I should be emailed every three or four months to be updated about waiting times for my operation, in this day and age I cannot see that it is not possible to do this and the hospital does not have to have staff to answer the phone when patients ring in for this information.


michael patton 21-Oct-2017 at 20:24 hrs

The saddest aspect of this is that authorities have known for years, yet nothing has been done about it.Since we don't have a working Executive, it is unlikely to improve anytime soon.


John Nelson 21-Oct-2017 at 14:11 hrs

Stop the consultants working in private hospitals. Its either NHS or private not BOTH.

A couple of ops here a couple there doesn't get through the waiting lists.

Not sure whether it's true, but the word on the street is ..... people who can afford it are seing consultants private for a couple of hundred quid to get a diagnosis. Then they are pushed into the nhs list and have their op a little bit quicker.

Patients,its either NHS or private not BOTH


John Desmond Norris 20-Oct-2017 at 23:00 hrs

There is really no quick solution to this problem and it will only be tackled properly when people realise that their expectations are more that necessary in a lot of instances. I think also that the Medical Profession needs to have a hard look at how medical practitioners are produced and how they practise .
The perception at present is that 'new' practitioners in many instances do not know when to tell a patient that there is little wrong with he or she and that given time they will get better anyway. Perhaps they, the Practitioners, are scared of possible litigation. Such a feeling is no doubt due to the fact that in many instances the medical practitioner does not know the person with whom they are dealing. Doing locums and giving patients a limited time in the consulting room is one reason for this. I think that it can be said that due to inexperience or lack of knowledge the easiest way is for the medical practitioner to send the patient to A and E.There are other factors whereby the Hospitals are not meeting targets. One of them is probably that the targets are unrealistic and are for carrying out a multiplicity of procedures,unrelated to each other. I suggest that the media be taken out of the whole matter. Basically it is there to report on what is wrong and make alleged knowledgeable reports on things that they are not really qualified to report on in order to sell Newspapers or fill n time on the Media.
One could go on and on and in my opinion until there is more a perception of connectivity between patient and medical practitioner the latter will continue to try and justify their high salary and the former will make sure that they get value for money


charlie lynn 20-Oct-2017 at 20:09 hrs

I think that the health service is not fully to blame for long waiting lists as so many people don't turn up for their appointments.


Madeline McBride 20-Oct-2017 at 19:46 hrs

Absolutely disgusted with waiting time lists. I am waiting for months on an important neurological appointment,about my MS treatment. MS doesn't obviously have the same publicity as many other diseases,for what reason,I can't fathom as it is aggressive for a lot of us. Told you are getting new treatment and left on nothing for months as all MS treatment funding is suspended. Totally unfair and completely disgusting


Irving Nixon 20-Oct-2017 at 17:08 hrs

Key to reducing hospital waiting times and releasing funds available for clinical use is to streamline the Health & Social Care system in Northern Ireland. This will significantly improve communications and accelerate successful patient outcomes. The existing slicing and dicing of the system into 3 layers of healthcare, primary, secondary and tertiary, and 5 regional H≻ Boards delays decision making, causes wasted time and effort and erodes resources and money. These current 15 silos communicate in the digital age via typed letter sent through the GPO. It takes a week to send a letter and a week to receive a reply. Clinicians do not have the time to check their dictation which leads to errors and mistakes. Merging the 5 H&CC; Boards and the 3 layers of Healthcare under one management board would dramatically speed up referrals, improve decision making and release obsolete administrative staff costs for reallocation to front line services. Providing a single secure patient database would ensure that clinical decisions are made holistically rather than in isolation. With the increase in elderly patients with multiple chronic conditions, this provision is essential to ensure that this growing demographic group stay physically and mentally active. Failure to do so will clog hospital beds and social care provision in the home still further. It is time the NHS scrapped the patently untrue claim that it is the best in the world and looked overseas at best practice for healthcare provision. In countries like France and Canada coherent national or provincial care is provided with central patient databases in a fraction of the time. Throwing money at the current system is like collecting water in a sieve. It just will not work.


Susan Deacon 20-Oct-2017 at 16:37 hrs

I am waiting to see an orthopaedic surgeon regarding a shoulder injury. I was told the waiting list for initial consultation was 1 year. That was 18 months ago. Last week I was told I may have another year (or more) to wait.
I have written to MPs and MLAs, the answers I received were the usual party-line dogma and 'blurb'.
How is being 'informed about waiting times' going to help solve this problem. The system has broken down and needs fixing not tinkering with.


Peter Culbert 20-Oct-2017 at 16:28 hrs

'Immediate and sustainable solutions to these overlong waiting lists need to be found.'

- why doesn't the Patient and Client Council suggest some?!

It seems to me one of the main issues causing long waiting lists and excessive waiting times at A&E is a lack of qualified staff, which in turn depends on sufficient funding. But what do the Health Trusts in NI expect when they are spending £100,000 a year for a single nurse from an agency, as reported recently? If they employed them directly, it would cost £25/30,000. Absolute disgrace. Stop using agencies to employ staff, and with the saved money create more f/t medical posts (stop all this temporary nonsense) and places on nurse training courses.

On the news last night one hospital had a staff nurse as the first point of contact in A&E, so a medical professional made the decision whether people really needed A&E - if not they were sent elsewhere. Why dont all hospitals adopt this if it reduces waiting times at A&E departments? I would also suggest GPs seem unable to do even minor medical procedures such as stitching a cut - you're sent to A&E instead. Why?

And I wonder if many consultants are still not appearing at work most Fridays? If so, that practice needs to stop NOW! Don't allow them to work in the private sector on a Saturday, which the NHS then pays for.

Government funding practices are also a joke. In a documentary about the Housing Executive, money was available to create an outside garden for residents in a tower block, but the residents had to continue to live in damp flats, needing new kitchens etc, because the garden 'fund' was from a different stream. Are you serious?! I laughed out loud, but felt sorry for the little old lady who made the same point to the idiot who wanted a nice new garden. You couldn't make it up. No doubt such perverted practices are going on in NHS funding, so that needs to stop.

So there's 5 suggested solutions.

Rant over (for now).