Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and Chairman of the Stormont All Party Congenital Heart Committee, has called on the Health Minister “to urgently implement a workable plan to cut the waiting lists for patients waiting over the maximum time for a first consultant-led outpatient appointments”.
Assemblyman Swann, who is also UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim UUP Chairman, issued his challenge after a UUP question revealed that the numbers waiting for such appointments at the Causeway Hospital had rocketed from 183 on 30 September 2013 to 2,723 on 30 September 2015.
Mr Swann said he was “absolutely shocked at this massive jump in numbers in only three years”.
He added: “The official government target is that nobody should have to wait longer than 18 weeks for their first appointment with a consultant. Unfortunately however the number of people waiting longer than this in Causeway Hospital has jumped dramatically from 2013 to last year.
“The total number of people waiting longer the maximum across all of Northern Ireland swelled from 5,156 to 48,190.
“The revelation that so many people are waiting longer in the Causeway than what the Minister and the Department of Health says should be the very maximum is totally outrageous.
“While for some time I have been aware of growing pressures, the scale of the problem which has now for the first time been revealed to the Ulster Unionist Party at Stormont is immense.
“The reason targets exist is because it is very widely accepted that the longer patients are forced to wait for treatment the greater harm they may ultimately come to.
“Each of those 2,723 people waiting longer than 18 weeks in Antrim have been badly failed and totally let down by the DUP Health Minister.
“Among those lingering on the list there will be people anxiously awaiting a further test or diagnosis, as well as many others in pain and discomfort awaiting treatment. The plight of some of the people coming to my colleagues and I regarding the delays is heart-breaking.
“These include people who are desperately awaiting orthopaedic surgery. It’s rightly considered cruel and inhumane to knowingly keep an animal in pain and yet for some reason the Department of Health thinks it’s acceptable to have thousands of people waiting indefinitely for treatment.
“The crisis facing our local NHS is unprecedented and this has contributed to the fact that the numbers of people waiting for hospital treatment, as well as the lengths of time they are being forced to wait, is now greater than any year in recent history.
“Even before the return of Stormont over 15 years ago, when hospitals waiting lists were considered outrageous, many people were receiving a more timely service than what they are now.
“The collapse of core hospital services over the last two to three years has been scandalous and has developed against a total abdication of Executive leadership.
“The Ulster Unionist Party repeatedly warned as far back as 2010 that a crisis would develop in 2014/15 if urgent action was not taken to address funding shortfalls in our health service.
“Unfortunately these were ignored and now we are in the midst of the worst health service crisis anywhere in the United Kingdom.
“It is deeply regrettable that as these figures reveal a spiralling situation in our local hospital, the current Minister Simon Hamilton is more interested in soundbites than actually delivering and improving services for local patients.
“Instead of fighting our nurses through the media over their modest ask for a 1% pay rise, the Minister would be better working with his staff given they are the only thing keeping the local system from collapsing all together,” warned Assemblyman Swann.