How has a third of Northern Ireland's population ended up on a hospital waiting list?

A mother has had to resort to praying for her daughter due to long hospital waiting lists in Northern Ireland, ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan reports


The Health Minister of Northern Ireland has described waiting times here as appalling - and indeed they are.

A third of the population are on some sort of waiting list. For many, that wait is not months, it’s not a year, it’s many, many years. You have to ask yourself, what is going on and has Covid really had such a dire effect? The answer to the latter question is no, not really. Of course, the pandemic has exacerbated the waiting times, as hospitals cancelled and postponed elective surgery while staff treated Covid patients.

But waiting times in Northern Ireland were already bad. They’ve been the worst in the UK for a long time and consecutive health ministers have failed to sort them out.

Northern Ireland Chief Medical Officer Michael McBride receives his first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Credit: PA

I spoke to one oncologist today from Belfast City Hospital who told me there are three main reasons why things are so bad.

Firstly, there’s no large centre specifically for routine diagnostics and surgery. There are many small, community hospitals but their scanning departments get caught up in emergencies and very few routine scans ever take place. He wants a dedicated centre built as soon as possible.

Secondly, the service has been underfunded for too long. Robin Swann, the Health Minister, admits himself he needs more money and a longer term funding plan or things won’t get sorted for at least 10 years.

And thirdly, there are too few staff to undertake the mammoth task of getting through the waiting lists.


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Currently, there are 335,042 outpatients waiting for some sort of treatment. 57% have been waiting more than a year for their very first appointment.

GPs can't refer their patients to specialists because the waiting lists themselves are full. For those who do get on lists, they’re waiting up to seven years.

Both the GP and the oncologist I spoke to said the health service will collapse if nothing is done. Action surely has to be taken or people will end up dying on waiting lists.