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Almost one in five patients in Northern Ireland waiting more than a year for treatment, warns Royal College of Surgeons

22 Feb 2018

Northern Ireland Department of Health waiting time statistics published today show patients are still waiting too long for surgery. Data for the quarter from October to the end of December 2017 show 61.2% of patients were waiting longer than 13 weeks to be admitted for inpatient or day case treatment. For the same period, 19.1% (almost one in five) of patients waited more than 52 weeks to be admitted for inpatient or day case treatment. In total, this number was 14,979.

Today’s data means waiting time targets were missed throughout 2017. Currently, Government targets require that less than 45% of patients should be waiting over 13 weeks and 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 13 weeks waiting times target has not been met since the quarter ending 31 March 2013 and the 52 weeks target has not been completely achieved in the last 11 years. 

The problem has been amplified since 2014 by the gap between the capacity that has been available in the service, growing demand and the limited availability of short term funds (typically in the region of £80M/ year) to treat the most urgent cases. The HSC acknowledges that the demand for elective surgery exceeds what is currently commissioned by 60,000 assessments and 35,000 treatments. There is a clear need to find a sustainable solution to a situation that places some patients at serious risk.

Responding to these figures, Susan Hill, Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons, said:

“Waiting times for surgery in the health service in Northern Ireland are completely unacceptable and this is especially clear when you compare the numbers with England and Wales. The service does not have the capacity to deliver the number of operations required for new patients or to address the growing backlog. 

“Patients’ health is deteriorating due to long waits for surgery. Health and Social Care staff must be commended as they continue to work tremendously hard to deliver high standards of care. However, political instability, the lack of leadership and failure to put in place a budget for much needed reforms in Northern Ireland, continue to undermine efforts to reduce these excessively long waits.  

“The latest performance data shows more than 5,262 trauma & orthopaedics patients and 2,802 general surgery patients are waiting over a year for treatment. In reality, as patients will have first waited many weeks to see a specialist, they will be languishing on waiting lists even longer than these numbers suggest. 

“We welcome the publication today of the Elective Care Progress Report and are pleased to see the Department of Health has approved the report’s innovative recommendations. The proposal to deliver planned operations in areas such as general surgery, orthopaedics and vascular surgery at day surgery centres will benefit both elective and emergency surgery patients by delivering more timely care. 

“For too long, the health service in Northern Ireland has been paralysed by the inability to form a Government, with no health minister or agreed budget.  We urge all stakeholders to come together to find an agreed way forward to allocate funds and allow the much needed Elective Care Plan, as well as the associated reforms to be implemented as soon as possible. Otherwise, the heath service will be headed for catastrophe.” 


Notes to editors

1. Full data available here:

2. 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.

3. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office on: 020 7869 6052/6047; or email:


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