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Waiting lists remain devastating for patients, say Royal College of Surgeons in Northern Ireland

25 May 2023

Northern Ireland’s elective waiting times remain extremely challenging and could potentially worsen in light of current financial assessments, according to the Northern Ireland Director of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS England).

Professor Mark Taylor expressed grave concern after new Department of Health figures released today show waiting times for inpatient surgery or treatment, or first outpatient appointment with a consultant and diagnostics remain sky-high.

The waiting time figures come on the back of a hammer blow to elective recovery this week by the Department of Health after it revealed plans to axe £34 million from its waiting lists initiative programme due to huge budget pressures. These concerns and more were outlined by Professor Taylor and other health professionals in oral evidence to the Westminster Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee this week.

Today’s figures show:

•           121,879 patients waiting for surgery or treatment including at a DPC, a 2.6% (or 3,245) decrease on last quarter’s figures i.e. 125,124

•           52.9% (or 64,513) patients are waiting more than 52 weeks, with the previous quarter showing 54.2% (66,302)

•           401,201 patients waiting for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant, 1.6% increase from last quarter (378,411)

•           Increase in numbers waiting for diagnostic scan - 173,572 patients up from 162,047

•           Largest waiting lists remain for general surgery (26,327), trauma and orthopaedic (25,075), Ear Nose and Throat (14,560), and Urology (9,725)

•           One in twenty (5%) patients waiting for Plastic Surgery, ENT, Urology, Gynaecology or Trauma & Orthopaedics Surgery admissions have been waiting over 5 years.

Professor Taylor said although progress was taking place in the recovery of surgery and implementation of ambulatory and elective overnight stay centres, demand for hospital services was continuing to outweigh capacity. Effective and long-term workforce planning, especially in light of 23% vacancy rates in the consultant community reinforce this need he added.

“At the heart of these figures are people who are suffering, and it is devastating to know these lists are not dramatically improving. As clinicians we see first-hand the disappointment and frustration of our patients when we say we must prioritise lists and that they could be facing very long waits.

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

“To help make significant inroads into the waiting lists long term, we need proper workforce planning, a sustained political arrangement at Stormont with 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.

"The Bengoa Report predicted much of the present situation we’re experiencing, and there has never been a greater time than now to transform our health service.”


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:  Additional waiting time statistics 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. The Professional Board includes these elected regional specialty advisors, a representative from the Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT), QUB & UU Medical School Surgical Societies, NIMDTA Head of the School of Surgery, SAS doctors and an RCS England Council member.
  4. The purpose of the Board is to improve surgical outcomes for patients, advocate locally and support the dissemination of good practice and professional guidance. 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.
  5. 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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