Commenting today following publication of the latest quarterly inpatient, outpatient and diagnostics waiting times, Health Minister Simon Hamilton said that the journey to restore waiting times was underway.
The Minister said: “The additional £40million I have invested over the last couple of months will start the slow journey of restoring our waiting times to where they had been prior to the welfare reform debacle.
“Improving waiting times continues to be one of my key priorities and the vast majority of additional resources made available by the Executive in November are going directly towards tackling waiting times. This is expected to benefit some 60,000 to 70,000 patients who would otherwise be waiting for assessments, diagnostics and treatments, and is not yet reflected in December figures but will impact on the next set of official statistics.
“Since November significant work has been undertaken to secure additional outpatient clinics and treatments within Trusts, and to put in place appropriate arrangements with independent sector organisations to transfer suitable patients for assessment and treatment.
“Most patients will be seen during January to March this year, with many having already being seen and treated or notified of their appointments, including those waiting for orthopaedics, gastroenterology, neurology, ENT, general surgery and dermatology.
“We continue to face ever increasing demands on our services, the number of referrals to outpatients services for example, has increased by 11.5% since 2012/13 to 2014/15 and we expect this to continue. But the Health Service also continues to rise to the challenge, with more outpatients seen and patients treated in house this quarter, compared to the same period last year.
“This is just a start, much more additional funding will be needed to get us back to where we previously were, but we are now going in the right direction and I trust patients will see the benefit of this as we move through the final quarter of 2015/16.
“Of course, I know this is a short term solution. I have also therefore asked the Health and Social Care Board to work on a plan to bring elective care into balance and my officials continue to engage with the Board on this. This does not mean that the work necessary to build capacity has stopped pending the finalisation of this plan. For example, plans are well advanced to enhance diagnostic capacity in light of increasing demands.
“I have also appointed an expert panel to lead the debate on the optimal configuration of Health and Social Care services in Northern Ireland. This clinically led process will advise us what services the people of Northern Ireland should expect from their Health and Social Care system.
“The Health and Social Care Board and my Department will continue to monitor progress to ensure that available capacity is fully maximised in order to deliver improved waiting times.
“I pay tribute to the exceptional work of staff in continuing to meet the challenges of providing elective care services.”