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Almost 20,000 patients in Northern Ireland now waiting more than a year for hospital treatment, warns Royal College of Surgeons

29 Nov 2018

Northern Ireland Department of Health waiting time statistics published today (Thursday 29 November 2018) show there are now 19,715 patients waiting more than a year for inpatient treatment – a rise of almost 50% compared to September 2017. By contrast, in England 3,156 patients were waiting more than a year. A further 94,222 are now waiting more than a year for an outpatient appointment in Northern Ireland. 
Data for the quarter from July to the end of September 2018 show 22.9% of patients waited more than a year to be admitted for inpatient and day case treatment. An additional 6,539 patients are now waiting over a year for treatment, including surgery, compared with the same period in 2017, a rise of almost 50%. There were also 94,222 more patients waiting over a year for outpatient treatment when compared with the same period last year (28% more). 
Government targets require that no patients should be waiting longer than 52 weeks for treatment. Northern Ireland’s waiting times targets have changed often over the years. Using the targets in force at each quarter in recent years, the 52 weeks target has not been completely achieved in over 11 years. 

The latest performance data shows more than 6,182 (38%) trauma & orthopaedics patients and 3,655 (22%) general surgery patients were waiting over a year for treatment. 
Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland measures its waiting times in two stages: referral to first outpatient appointment, and then outpatient to inpatient. Therefore, the real wait of many patients will be even longer than the statistics indicate. 

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

“These waiting list figures are deeply distressing and depressing. They graphically underline the need for long-term investment, with certainty and clarity on budgets. We can't go on like this - with health here operating on single year budgets and barely enough money to keep its head above water, let alone tackle the backlog of patients waiting for care.

“The funding provided this year has taken significant numbers off waiting lists. But it's still only slowed the increase in the backlog. That shows the scale of the challenge we are facing.

“We need to radically transform the way services are provided. That's the long-term transformation solution - bridging the gap between growing demand for services and the capacity of the system to meet that demand. It's that gap that means the waiting list backlog keeps increasing. We also need guaranteed and sustained investment across a number of years to eradicate that backlog.

“Unfortunately, those of us who warned about our health service sitting on a burning platform are being proved right. 

“I know there is a strong commitment right across the system to meet the challenges and put things right. The commencement of the new elective care centres is a welcome strategy in the effort to increase capacity. 

“Political leadership is also essential and I would urge all politicians to do everything in their power to assist in this most critical problem facing our health and social care system.” 

Notes to editors

1. Full data available here:

2. Waiting times in Northern Ireland are measured differently to the rest of the UK.  England, Wales, and Scotland measure waiting times from when a patient is referred for treatment (referral to treatment waiting times). However, Northern Ireland instead measures two stages of treatment: referral to first outpatient appointment and then outpatient to inpatient treatment. This document focuses on inpatient waits but it is important to stress that outpatient waiting times are themselves very long meaning the overall patient time from referral to treatment is far longer than anywhere else in the UK. It is very likely that an unacceptable number of patients will be waiting more than 2 years for treatment from initial referral.
3. In March 2018, £30 million in ‘transformation funds’ were released as part of the confidence and supply arrangements between the DUP and Conservatives. These funds were targeted at the reduction of waiting time pressures.

4. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and registered charity, which exists to advance surgical standards and improve patient care.
5. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office on: 020 7869 6052/6047; or email:


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