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Surgeons concerned over continued long waits for surgery in Northern Ireland

23 Feb 2023

Surgeons are concerned following figures published today which show waiting times for inpatient surgery and treatment in Northern Ireland remain extremely long. The Department of Health statistics also include waits for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant and diagnostics. The Royal College of Surgeons of England Director in Northern Ireland, Mr Mark Taylor, said more opportunities are needed to operate in surgical hubs and dedicated elective sites to address the huge numbers waiting.

The figures for inpatient and day case categories show a total of 122,267 patients are waiting for surgery or treatment which is a 1.2% drop on the previous quarter. The longest waits remain for General Surgery, ENT and Trauma and Orthopaedics. The ratio and nature of the surgery or treatment required remains roughly the same with 34% of patients requiring inpatient provision and 66% day case.

More than half of patients (54.2% or 66,302) waiting to be admitted to hospital for their surgery or treatment have been waiting more than 52 weeks. This is a slight improvement on the previous quarter, which showed 68,565 people waiting. The figures also sadly show that over 6,000 patients have been waiting 5 years or more for their operation.

Outpatient lists rose slightly on the previous quarter by 0.4% from 376,833 to 378,411. Although a small rise on the previous quarter (June to September 2022) the figures represent a 6.7% increase on the previous year (December 2021).

Meanwhile 162,047 people are waiting for a critical diagnostic scan, which is 1.2% (1,891) less than at September 2022 (163,938), but nearly 10% more than at December 2021.

There are also nearly 20,000 patients waiting to be seen at day case procedure centre for varicose or cataract surgery or for an appointment with a consultant.

Responding to the figures, Mr Mark Taylor, Director in Northern Ireland for the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said:

“Although there has been some progress in some areas of the health service, demand for hospital services continues to outstrip capacity. For example, we know there are patients facing over five years for a routine operation to fix their hips. Surgeons are deeply concerned about these sorts of waits as they will inevitable involve long-term deterioration associated with untreated major disease.

“Everyone is working tremendously hard to address mammoth waiting lists and that’s because staff care and they know at the heart of these figures, are real people who are suffering.

“We know we need to create more operating capacity for surgeons and teams across Northern Ireland. Surgical hubs and dedicated elective sites are helping to create a landscape in our health service where we are all sharing resources and creating more chances to get life-saving and life-changing surgery done.

“Staff have borne the brunt of massive pressures and change over the last few years and morale is extremely low across our surgical, medical and nursing teams. To help make significant inroads into the waiting lists long term, we need proper workforce planning, a sustained political arrangement at Stormont and a long-term protected budget that prioritises waiting lists and ring fences the finances and teams required for us to banish long waiting lists for good.”

Meanwhile Northern Ireland’s health service workforce figures released this week show how badly understaffed the health service is with vacancies rising to 8,316 (December 2022). The previous quarter in September 2022 showed 8,048 vacancies, and June’s figures showed 6,613.

Notes to Editors

  1. Waiting times information is available for (i) a first outpatient appointment, (ii) a diagnostic service, (iii) admission for inpatient treatment and (iv) cancer services and is reported on a quarterly basis within the ‘Northern Ireland waiting list bulletins’ and is available here:
  2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS England) provides world-class education, assessment and development to 30,000 surgeons, dental professionals and members of the wider surgical and dental care teams, at all stages of their career. Our vision is to see excellent surgical care for everyone. We do this by setting professional standards, facilitating research and championing the best outcomes for patients.
  3. A Professional Board of over 20 surgeons represents RCS England in Northern Ireland. They reflect the specialty areas of neurosurgery, ENT, paediatrics, general surgery, trauma and orthopaedics, plastics, urology, vascular, cardiothoracic and OMFS.
  4. The Professional Board includes 10 elected regional specialty advisors, Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT), QUB & UU Medical School Surgical Society, NIMDTA Head of the School of Surgery, SAS doctors and an RCS England Council member.
  5. The purpose of the Board is to improve surgical outcomes for patients, advocate locally and support the dissemination of good practice and professional guidance.
  6. Recent NI College publications include surgical manifesto for the NI 2022 assembly elections and Action Plan for the Recovery of Elective Surgery 10 Steps Not 10 Years.
  7. For more information, please contact the Press Office: Telephone: 020 7869 6052/6055 Email: Out-of-hours media enquiries: 0207 869 6056.


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