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‘Shocking’ waiting time figures show impact of second wave of pandemic on planned surgery in Northern Ireland

27 May 2021

  • Surgeons call for expansion of Covid-light sites and surgical hubs.

Surgeons have described waiting time figures published today as ‘shocking’ and urged the NI Government to get behind an expansion of Covid-light hospital sites and surgical hubs, to help tackle the backlog of patients needing operations. 

The Department of Health has published quarterly statistics today, reflecting January to March 2021, which show over 111,209 people waiting for surgical treatment, either as an inpatient or day case admission, with more than half (68,309) of these patients waiting more than a year for their procedures. In total, 446, 251 people were waiting for either a first outpatient appointment with a consultant, or an inpatient or day case admission

Earlier this week, the Royal College of Surgeons published an action plan for tackling waiting times in Northern Ireland, which included a call for increased investment, protected surgical beds, more COVID-light sites and surgical hubs, and an expansion of the wider surgical workforce, alongside programmes to support staff wellbeing. 

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

“Today’s figures are truly shocking. It was a brutal start to the year, with many procedures, including cancer operations, needing to be cancelled or postponed, as our hospitals heaved under the pressure of treating seriously ill Covid-19 patients during the peak of the second wave. 

“Our health service was nearing crisis point before the pandemic, and the situation has only worsened over the last year. It is heart-breaking as a clinician to have to tell patients that they may be waiting many more months, if not years for the treatment they need. It’s easy to see why some are turning to private providers. 

“The task ahead may seem overwhelming, but the Royal College of Surgeons has laid out a workable plan, that with support from the NI government and collaboration across hospitals and regions, sets a course for righting the ship. 

“Key to this plan is the use of Covid-light sites and surgical hubs, which can help protect planned surgery from future stoppages due to surges in the Covid-19 virus, or the winter flu season." 


Notes to editors

1. Department of Health figures are available here: 

2. The College’s full Northern Ireland Action Plan for Surgical Recovery: 10 Steps Not 10 Years is available to read here: 

3. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is represented in Northern Ireland by a Professional Board, comprising 10 elected specialty surgeons, a member elected by the Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT), the Chair of QUB Medical School Surgical Society, the Head of the School of Surgery and an RCS Council member. The purpose of the Board is to improve surgical outcomes for patients, advocate locally and support the dissemination of good practice and professional guidance.

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