Health crisis: South Tyrone and Craigavon Hospital waiting list backlog hits 10,166 patients

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The number of vulnerable local patients waiting for longer than they should for a consultant has risen to shockingly high levels over the past two years.

A total of 13,664 patients in the Southern Trust region, which includes the Dungannon area, have been waiting more than 18 weeks for treatment, as recorded in September.

The staggering figure is 13,372 higher than the number for the similar month in 2013, which stood at just 292 patients.

South Tyrone Hospital has seen its waiting list backlog soar from 16 in 2013 to 1,414 last year, while Craigavon’s jumped from 187 in 2013 to 8,752.

Under NHS guidelines, no patient should have to wait more than 18 weeks for a consultant-led appointment.

Across Northern Ireland, the mammoth hospital waiting lists have been described as among the worst in Europe.

Part of the problem is that Northern Ireland is the only region of the UK that is not using the private health sector to help clear hospital waiting lists.

The backlog has been compounded by the Department of Health’s decision last September to pull the plug on its agreement with Kingsbridge private hospital which had been contracted to carry out procedures.

In August, Valerie Watts, chief of the Health and Social Care Board, also warned that surgery waiting times for Northern Ireland patients are set to get “significantly worse”.

While England, Scotland and Wales use private companies, local commissioners said they could not afford it. There have also been huge financial constraints, with health trusts forced to wield savage workforce cuts to balance their budgets, placing pressure on performance.

A senior doctor has warned these figures are “clearly evidence of a crisis” and warned that the use of the private sector to tackle the waiting lists was merely “a quick fix”.

The latest Department of Health figures show that across Northern Ireland: the total number of people waiting for a first outpatient appointment at the end of September 2015 was 230,625.

There are a further 12,818 waiting for a clinical assessment, 90,643 waiting for a diagnostic service and 62,697 waiting for inpatient admission.

Almost half of all people on the outpatient list have been waiting for more than 18 weeks - despite the government target that nobody should ever have to wait that long. Minister Simon Hamilton said he was confident of getting the waiting times back to an “acceptable position”.