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Surgeons warn waiting times jump ‘unacceptable for everyone’

31 Aug 2023

Surgeons have warned that “successful elective recovery is even harder” as new figures released today show Northern Ireland’s outpatient and diagnostic waiting times have jumped massively again.

Responding to the latest batch of quarterly waiting time figures, the newly appointed Northern Ireland Director of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS England) Niall McGonigle said:

“These new Department of Health figures show waiting times for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant have risen massively on the last quarter by over 15,000. Diagnostics have also jumped by 15,000 whilst inpatients reduced slightly by around 2%. Taken together these figures are deeply worrying and show the system and staff are under relentless strain. The drive to do better remains for all of us and we have no time to lose in addressing these long waiting lists.

“Patients in Northern Ireland are suffering inexorable waits, their lives are on hold and this is simply unacceptable for everyone.”

Today’s figures show:

  • 416,022 patients waiting for a first outpatient appointment with a consultant (was 401,201)
  • 188,881 waiting for a critical diagnostic scan (was 173,572)
  • 119,095 patients waiting for surgery or treatment including at a Day Case Procedure Centre (2.3% fewer than last quarter, ie 121,879)
  • 52.8% of patients waiting more than 52 weeks for admission (was 52.9%)
  • The largest inpatient waiting lists were for General Surgery (25,174); Trauma & Orthopaedics (24,438), Ear Nose and Throat (14,231) and Urology (9,341)
  • The median waiting time for children waiting for paediatric surgery is 42.5 weeks with the worst levels reaching 221 weeks (over 4 years)

The waiting time figures arrive in a very difficult financial landscape as well as a political vacuum with the NI Assembly in limbo since February 2022. The government’s plan in addressing the backlog known as the Elective Care Framework, is also in trouble. Last month, the Department of Health said it will not be possible to achieve the plan’s vision of banishing long waiting lists for good by 2026 due to budgetary pressures.

Northern Ireland College Director Niall McGonigle said:

“We are two years into a five-year waiting list plan and it is significant that the Department of Health is saying at the mid-way point that we have no way of meeting the 2026 target due to severe budgetary pressures. This assessment along with today’s figures raises the alarm on all our elective recovery expectations. When you add in the current Northern Ireland political instability into the mix, the business of sustained and successful elective recovery is even harder.”

The new NI Director concluded that despite a very challenging climate, he was pleased to see some progress was taking place in the recovery of surgery and implementation of ambulatory and elective overnight stay centres.

“We welcome the roll-out and expanded activity of the pre-assessment mega clinics, Rapid Diagnosis Centres, Post Anaesthetic Care Units, and of course surgical hubs at Lagan Valley and Omagh. Over 10,000 patients have been treated at Lagan Valley which is a great result for patients across a range of specialties. As well as overnight surgery centres at the Mater Hospital, Daisy Hill and South West Acute Hospital. Taken together, these sites, with the appropriate staff and resources in place, are major drivers in reducing the waiting lists.”

Notes to Editors:

  1.  Progress report on five-year Elective Care Framework published 6 July 2023:
  2. The Royal College of Surgeons of England is a professional membership organisation and is represented in Northern Ireland by a Professional Board of over 20 surgeons reflecting the specialty areas of: Neurosurgery, ENT, Paediatrics, General Surgery, Trauma and Orthopaedics, Plastics, Urology, Vascular, Cardiothoracic and OMFS.
  3. The Board includes 10 elected regional specialty advisors, Association of Surgeons in Training (ASiT), QUB & UU Medical School Surgical Societies, NIMDTA Head of the School of Surgery, SAS doctors and an RCS England Council member. The purpose of the Board is to improve surgical outcomes for patients, advocate locally and support the dissemination of good practice and professional guidance.
  4. Recent NI College publications include surgical manifesto for the NI 2022 assembly elections and the Action Plan for the Recovery of Elective Surgery 10 Steps Not 10 Years.
  5. For more information, please contact

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