Northern Ireland: Tens of thousands wait longer than year for surgery as hospitals struggle with Covid backlog

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

Tens of thousands have been waiting longer than a year for elective surgery in Northern Ireland, where the health service is struggling under the weight of a Covid backlog.

Following the cancellation of almost all elective procedures in the region at the start of the pandemic, Health Minister Robin Swann said it could take up to a decade to clear waiting lists.

On Thursday, statistics showed Northern Ireland's health service has fallen woefully short of its own targets.

Data taken from the first three months of 2021 found:

  • 61% of those on the list (14,700 people) had been waiting longer than a year for general surgery

  • 73% (15,700 people) had been waiting over a year for trauma and orthopaedic surgery

The Department of Health's target for the quarter was to have no patient waiting for longer than a year for inpatient treatment.

23% of Northern Ireland's population is on a waiting list, compared to 9% of people in England.

Naomi and her mother Lorraine

14-year-old Naomi Broomfield has scoliosis - a condition where the spine twists and curves to the side. Due the its rapid growth in Naomi and the ineffectiveness of other treatments, she needs spinal surgery.

Her mother, Lorraine, tells us that Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said Naomi faces a three-year waiting list.

“I appreciate they’re apologising to me, thank you. But that’s not changing. Last week we were off school for three days in weakness and pain because we can’t function," she said.

Lorraine explains the struggles Naomi faces while waiting for surgery

As a result of the wait Naomi faces, Lorraine has set up a crowd-funding page to raise money for surgery in Turkey (it’s half the price to get it done there, than it is privately in the UK).

Thursday's statistics also found that around 84% of patients (281,000 people) waited longer than nine weeks for an outpatient appointment - more than half waited for over a year.

These figures come despite the Department of Health's target that by March 2021, 50% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment. It also said no patient should wait longer than 52 weeks.

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Additionally, the department said 75% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test, with no patient waiting longer than 26 weeks.

In reality, around 57% waited for over nine weeks, while roughly 38% waited for over 26.