Tyrone multiple sclerosis sufferers waiting too long for diagnosis?

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Latest figures for the Southern Trust which includes the South Tyrone area reveal that in September, there were 747 patients waiting longer than they should for a first appointment with a neurology specialist.

This amounts to about 50 percent of all patients on the waiting list.

The government targets are that no one should wait longer than 18 weeks for their first outpatient appointment and at least 60% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks.

In response to the figures, the charity, MS Society Northern Ireland is calling for a “fundamental system change” to deal with the waiting list backlog and to ensure equal access to treatment and services for all patients.

The latest measure of performance for the quarter ending September 30th 2015 shows that Northern Ireland as a whole did not meet either of the outpatient appointment waiting time targets, nor did any of the individual health trusts.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton said the reason for lengthy waiting times for neurology appointments is similar to many other specialities – the demand for outpatient consultations currently exceeds capacity – and that £40m secured in November’s monitoring round (when Stormont’s Executive reallocates unspent money) is to be spent on tackling waiting lists.

The Minister added that “significant annual investment” is made every year in MS specialist drugs for patients in Northern Ireland with the current budget for the service in excess of £11m.

A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said: “We very much regret the increasing waiting times being experienced by our patients. Demand for hospital services across Northern Ireland continues to grow beyond the capacity that is currently available.

“A decision was taken (in July 2014) by The Health & Social Care Board to suspend additional clinics within our hospitals and within the Independent Sector due to the financial constraints within public services in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the loss of this capacity coupled with a further rise in demand for services has led to increased waiting times for all specialties.

“Some additional recent funding was secured as part of November monitoring and is being used to address waiting times for both outpatient and treatment waits. We are continuing to work with the Health and Social Care Board (which commissions services for the public) to do everything possible to reduce waiting times for our patients.”