A total of 147 patients in the Southern Trust, which includes South Tyrone, have been waiting longer than six months for crucial knee and hip replacement operations, it has been revealed.
Some long-suffering patients in the Southern Trust area, which includes South Tyrone, are enduring delays of a year and a half, according to the latest figures released by the Department of Health at the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In all there are 455 patients on the waiting list at Southern Trust hospitals.
The health figures show stark variations across the North, with Belfast Trust having the worst waiting times, with 1,425 patients waiting more than six months for knee and hip surgery, while the South Eastern Trust had less than five patients waiting more than six months for the operations.
Orthopaedics is among the medical specialities severely affected by spiralling waiting lists, with hundreds of patients now choosing to go down the private route – where the bill for hip operations is £9,000. Many of those kept waiting are elderly – and delays prolong their pain and lack of independence.
Last year, referrals to the north’s private clinics for orthopaedic operations, which also includes knee replacements, have risen by more than 20 per cent.
The Department of Health target for inpatient operations and daycase procedures states that at least 80 per cent of patients should be treated within 13 weeks - and no patient should wait longer than 26 weeks.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘We have now come to the crunch. Waiting times are more than a statistic.
‘Delayed and cancelled operations can seriously impact patients’ independence, mobility, ability to work and socialise, and prolong periods of pain or suffering that could be shortened by timely surgery. The challenges to the NHS must not excuse failings in the quality of treatment or patients’ experience of care.’
Experts say that unless the health budget is dramatically increased, waiting times may rise even further.