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Four in ten patients in Northern Ireland waiting more than a year for hospital treatment: Surgeons call for Covid-light sites

27 Aug 2020

Figures published today in the latest quarterly bulletin of waiting times for Northern Ireland show nearly 40% (39.4%, 38,354) of patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for either an inpatient or day case admission, compared with 32.8% (30,696) at 31 March 2020, and 27.2% (23,996) at 30 June 2019. [1]

Mr Mark Taylor, Director of the Royal College of Surgeons in Northern Ireland said,

"Northern Ireland already faced a massive mountain to climb on waiting times before the Covid pandemic began. The minister has already acknowledged that the situation would be much worse as a result of Covid19 and the figures today confirm this. The summit is ever further from our reach, but we must always remember this is not about numbers, it’s about people waiting in pain and distress for diagnosis and treatment.  

"The remaining weeks before winter sets in are a critical opportunity to forge ahead with as much safe elective surgery as possible, addressing the most urgent cases first, followed by those who have been waiting longest.

"To do that is going to require all hands to the pump.  We need to work across Trust boundaries to identify sites or parts of hospital complexes that can be set up as ‘Covid-light’ centres. Regular and rapid testing of staff and patients is essential to ensure that such sites are as risk free as possible.

"It isn’t an easy task, as we know that Covid19 is very much still with us. Just yesterday it was reported that five hospital patients tested positive for Covid19 in one of our Trusts. We must prioritise setting up Covid-light sites so that surgery can continue through any further spike in infections. We need fast testing for patients prior to admission, on admission and before discharge, to do all that we can to protect our patients and staff.

"This demands rapid transformation in ways of working, with more day-case centres, early identification of capacity and greater flexibility in using the independent sector where necessary to ensure NHS patients get timely care based on need, not ability to pay."

Highlighting his concerns about the longstanding and seemingly intractable inequity of access to surgery in Northern Ireland, Professor Neil Mortensen, President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England added:

"Our team of surgeons in Northern Ireland is working with Ministers and officials to get patient care up and running again safely. 

"Northern Ireland is now experiencing very long waits for surgery, so it is of profound importance to patients that every part of the political system and the healthcare system works together to put this right.

"There is a huge challenge in getting waiting times down right now.  It relies on establishing Covid-light sites with the greatest urgency, so that surgery can safely continue while Covid remains present."


Notes to editors

  1. Northern Ireland Waiting Time Statistics; Inpatient and Day Case Waiting Times; Quarter Ending June 2020 are available here:

  2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity with more than 25,000 members across the UK and internationally. The College exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care. 

  3. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office:

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