Versus Arthritis and the Royal College of Surgeons respond to Northern Ireland’s waiting times crisis
24 Nov 2022
Leading Charity Versus Arthritis and the Royal College of Surgeons of England have called on political leaders to restore the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly as the latest waiting time figures released today again reveal the scale of the health crisis.
A total of 123,791 patients are now waiting for surgery or treatment, and 163,938 are waiting for a critical diagnostic scan. There are also 376,833 patients waiting for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant and 18,165 patients are waiting for an appointment or treatment at Daycase Procedure Centre (DPC).
More than half (55.4%, 68,565) of patients waiting to be admitted to hospital for their surgery or treatment have been waiting more than 52 weeks.
The statistics, covering July to September 2022 reveal the largest surgical specialties remain in the fields of general surgery (27,112), trauma and orthopaedic (T&O) 25,951, Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) 14,283, and Urology 10,389. Meanwhile HSCNI workforce figures released yesterday show how badly staffed the system is with 8,048 vacancies across the health service, which is a massive jump on the previous quarter (6,613).
The figures highlight that NI is the pain capital of the UK and how patients in NI are four times as likely to be waiting for planned care as those in England.
Sara Graham, Northern Ireland Director at the charity Versus Arthritis, said:
“Our Health Service is under extreme pressure with no end in sight. Thousands of people across Northern Ireland are afflicted with debilitating pain because they cannot access the surgical services they need.
“Waiting months for surgery, let alone years, can be devastating for people with arthritis whose physical and mental health are worsening by the day, slowly eroding their independence. Research has found people's quality of life significantly deteriorates after each six months of waiting for a joint replacement operation.
“Surgeons, GPs, nurses and colleagues across the health sector have long called for the transformation of surgery services, and we welcome the Elective Care strategy and in particular the plans for elective orthopedic care, introduced by our last Health Minister, Robin Swann. However, we have an extremely long way to go.”
Versus Arthritis is calling for better diagnosis and treatment of arthritis, faster access to joint-replacement surgery, access to self-management support and action to help people with arthritis find or remain in work.
David Swain, Orthopaedic surgeon and specialty advisor fromthe Royal College of Surgeons of England in Northern Ireland said the waiting time figures once again showed our health service was in dire straits:
“A strong resilient workforce underpins all chance of success. We know everyone is working hard to recover surgical services and progress is being made with the creation of surgical hubs. However, the health service is bracing for a winter like never before. With signs of an early flu season, the continuing effects of Covid-19 and looming industrial action - this winter period will be exceptionally difficult. At the same time, hospitals are grappling with low staff morale and burnout leading to gaps in work rotas. In surgery, the reality is without more nurses and anaesthetic staff to support surgeons in theatre, together with a commitment to innovative ways of working, we will struggle to bring record waiting lists down. There is no overnight fix and that is why support to patients on long waiting lists is critical. While we acknowledge many other factors at play it is difficult to see how, without a clear recruitment and retention workforce strategy, we can emerge from the crisis our health service is facing especially with over 8,000 vacancies. Health cannot wait any longer – we need our Northern Ireland government back at Stormont and focused on this issue because in this vacuum everyone suffers. As clinicians we do not want to let our patients down, but the current waiting time figures show that the system is letting them down and that needs to change."
Sara Graham continued: “Better orthopedic care must be a priority that only a fully-functioning Assembly with an agreed three-year budget can deliver.
“When a patient gets their surgery, it can change not only their lives but that of their family with positive impacts on mental health and financial stability on families and carers.”
Notes to editors
Case study available on request with picture – written quote only:
Liz Morrison, 55, based in Belfast, lives with osteoarthritis and joint hypermobility syndrome. In 2021, Liz had already been waiting two years for knee surgery and had three more to go. She decided to pay privately through the cross border scheme and finally had surgery in August this year: “When I was told I’d have to wait another three years the bottom fell out of my world. I couldn’t see how it was possible to go on in this much pain for three more years. All I could see was increased disability. It felt so unfair.”
Link to waiting time figures https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/topics/doh-statistics-and-research/hospital-waiting-times-statistics
About Versus Arthritis
There are over half a million people in Northern Ireland living with arthritis and musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions. That’s one in four people, with half of those living in pain every single day. The impact is huge as the condition intrudes on everyday life – affecting the ability to work, care for a family, to move free from pain and to live independently. Yet arthritis is often dismissed as an inevitable part of aging or shrugged off as ‘just a bit of arthritis’. We don’t think that this is ok. Alongside volunteers, healthcare professionals, decision makers and researchers we do everything we can to push back against arthritis. The charity provides information and support across various channels:
- Face to face and virtual pain management and activity programmes
- A network of local peer support groups
- Our website https://www.versusarthritis.org/get-help/ has information and advice about MSK issues, for example exercises to manage your pain
- A free helpline on 0800 5200 520 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm)
- Chat to COVA, our COVID-19 Virtual Assistant at versusarthritis.org
- A supportive online community and social media presence
About Royal College of Surgeons of England
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. It is represented in Northern Ireland by a Professional Board of 20 surgeons reflecting the specialty areas of: Neurosurgery, ENT, Paediatrics, General Surgery, Trauma and Orthopaedics, Plastics, Urology, Vascular, Cardiothoracic and OMFS. The 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. 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 publications include surgical manifesto for the NI assembly elections and Action Plan for the Recovery of Elective Surgery 10 Steps Not 10 Years.
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