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Time for radical action to address waiting lists in Northern Ireland

26 Aug 2021

For immediate release: Thursday 26 August 2021

Surgeons have described waiting time figures published today as ‘devastating’ and urged the NI Executive to convene an urgent health summit on the waiting lists and establish more Covid-light surgical hubs so operations can go ahead.

The Department of Health quarterly statistics today, reflecting April to June 2021, show an increase in the number of people waiting for surgical treatment.

112,915 people are waiting for surgical treatment, either as an inpatient or day case admission, with nearly 60% of these patients (66,287) waiting more than a year for their procedures.

348,867 people are waiting for a first appointment with a consultant, an increase on the previous quarter figure of 335,042.

In total 465,731 people were waiting for either a first outpatient appointment with a consultant, or an inpatient or day case admission. This is an increase of 19,480 patients from the previous reporting period (Jan to March 2021: 446, 251) In May, the Royal College of Surgeons of England published an Action Plan for Surgical Recovery in Northern Ireland, which included a call for increased investment, protected surgical beds, more COVID-light sites and surgical hubs, waiting list accountability and a higher focus on staff wellbeing. It also called for an urgent health summit to address the waiting list crisis.

The NI health service is experiencing massive pressures this summer, due to increased positive cases of Covid-19, high numbers of patients with Covid-19 in critical care units and staff shortages. This has resulted in Trusts cancelling surgeries, including red flag cancers.

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

“This stop start approach to surgery is wreaking havoc on operating lists. We are urging system health leaders to do all that they can to bring about an expansion of COVID-light hospital sites and surgical hubs, to allow surgery to continue irrespective of the peaks and troughs of the pandemic.

“Our health service was in need of radical change before the pandemic, and the situation has only worsened over the last year. A health summit involving all political parties and health leaders will inject a critical impetus in addressing a solution to this ever increasing problem.”

Mr Taylor added that the situation facing patients was dire:

“We must always remember that behind these statistics are patients waiting in pain, worry and in great distress. It is heart-breaking as a clinician to tell patients that they may be waiting many more months, if not years, for the treatment they need. The moral distress we feel is very real. They deserve a health service that meets their needs and supports them at times of crisis.

“However we have a very vulnerable health system as was demonstrated again during this third wave of the virus. Increased Covid-19 rates, reduced staffing numbers, increased unscheduled care activity and a lack of protected COVID- light sites brought some areas of elective surgery to a standstill and lots of cancelled surgery.

“The pandemic has taken its toll on everyone and while the task ahead may seem overwhelming, we need to make changes now to enable time dependent and elective surgical procedures to continue.

“The College has laid out a workable plan for surgical recovery and key to this plan is the use of COVID-light sites and surgical hubs. To staff the hubs we need to appeal to recently retired colleagues, and hope they will consider returning to work in a green COVID-light site. We remain committed to working with the Department of Health and other stakeholders in progressing solutions that enhance surgical recovery to ensure patients get the surgery they need.”


Notes to Editors

  1. Department of Health figures are available here:
  2. Recent data has shown Northern Ireland has the highest covid-19 infection rate in the UK:
  3. The Northern Ireland Action Plan for Surgical Recovery: 10 Steps Not 10 Years is here: . One of the calls from the action plan referenced the need for an urgent health summit, see page 7.
  4. The Royal College of Surgeons of England 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 Medical School Surgical Society, NIMDTA Head of the School of Surgery 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.
  5. For more information, please contact the RCS England Press Office: Tel. 0207 869 6052/6047; email: For out-of-hours media enquiries, please telephone: 0207 869 6056

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