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Healthcare services in Northern Ireland 'on its knees'

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Waiting times for outpatient appointments, hospital procedures, emergency care, GPs and community health services have all hit record levels in Northern Ireland, with health care staff and patients declaring it the "worst ever" crisis to hit health services in the region.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, ever-growing patient demand, staff shortages, and the failure to put together a new Executive government following the recent Northern Ireland elections are being cited as the key drivers of the crisis, with health care staff now at breaking point.

Speaking to Medscape UK, British Medical Association Northern Ireland (BMA NI) council chair Dr Tom Black said the current crisis in Northern Ireland's health services essentially boils down to "workload and workforce" issues.

Waiting lists to access hospital appointments in Northern Ireland were already long before COVID-19, but the pandemic has significantly exacerbated the situation, he noted. Northern Ireland has the worst waiting lists in the UK, with more than 350,000 people currently waiting for a consultant-led appointment – more than half of them waiting over a year, with many waiting two, three, and even more years for an appointment.

"We're now heading towards nearly 400,000 on hospital waiting lists, which is a huge number when you consider that is one-in-five of the total population," Dr Black commented.

This week a judicial review is due to get underway at the High Court in Belfast after two patients initiated a legal case against the health services over excessive waiting times for access to care. One of the women has been waiting over five years to see a neurologist after being referred by her GP for suspected multiple sclerosis. The case is seeking a judicial declaration that the length of the waiting lists are unlawful and breached their human rights.

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Source: Medscape UK, 24 May 2022

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