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Waiting lists and the backlog remain challenging in Northern Ireland

25 Feb 2022

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has described today’s waiting figures in Northern Ireland as challenging. New waiting time figures, released this morning cover October through to December 2021 and paint a grim picture for patients in Northern Ireland.

  • A total of 120,097 people are waiting for surgery or treatment. This is an increase on the last quarter (which was 116,199). 
  • Furthermore, 69,373 patients have been waiting more than a year (in the last quarter it was 67,474).
  • The largest number of patients waiting are for general surgery, 26,605; trauma and orthopaedic surgery, 24,700; ENT,13,246; and urology, 9,775.
  • They also show 354,756 (last time it was 358,346) patients are waiting to see a consultant for the first time. This is an 1 per cent decrease on the previous quarter.
  • In total around 474,853 (last time it was 474,545) people are waiting for a first appointment with a hospital consultant or surgery/treatment. This is roughly 1 in 4 people.

Speaking about the figures Mr Mark Taylor, NI Director of the RCS England, said addressing the waiting lists remained extremely challenging:

“These statistics come at a crossroads moment for Northern Ireland’s health service. Our health service was in a precarious state before the pandemic, now it is even worse. Everyone knows that patients can come to harm whilst waiting for unacceptably long periods for treatment. Patients urgently need to see action not more words. They deserve and need timely care and treatment.

“The Northern Ireland Department of Health has a plan to address the backlog, but progress has been stymied by the pandemic and workforce challenges. Once we emerge from this latest Omicron surge and get back onto more level ground in the spring, there will be an even larger mountain to climb. However, any solution cannot rely on making the same staff work even harder.

“Staff will always work night and day to help patients in need but many are burnt out. We must address the underlying capacity issues across the system and take care of our staff too. We need significant recurrent investment both in staff and physical infrastructure, and we need to fund additional students and trainees across a range of professional groups over the next few years. The challenge is huge but with the right mix of investment and political support, we can really make a difference to Northern Ireland’s unacceptable waiting lists."

Notes to editors

  1. Latest ‘Northern Ireland Inpatient Waiting Times’ can be found here
  2. The RCS Northern Ireland Action Plan for Surgical Recovery: 10 Steps Not 10 Years specifically references elective accountability. It called on the government to “publish an annual report setting out its response to the waiting time backlog in Northern Ireland as well as measures to support patients facing long waits for surgery”.  As part of this, we called on the Department of Health to undertake detailed modelling projections to reveal how long it will take to clear the backlog per specialty.
  3. 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.

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. For more information, please contact the RCS Press Office:

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