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DUP Upper Bann MLA Jonathan Buckley who is also a member of the Assembly’s Health Committee has expressed concern at the deepening crisis in waiting times for those seeking a first outpatient appointment with a consultant.

Commenting, Mr Buckley said:

‘‘The figures released by the Department of Health provide harrowing insight into current waiting times in our hospitals.

At 31 December 2020, over half of patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment – 167,806 in total and over fifty thousand more patients than the previous year. For specialties like ears, nose and throat and trauma and orthopaedics over two thirds of patients were waiting more than a year.

The situation for those waiting on a diagnostic test was equally disturbing, with over 57,000 patients waiting more than 26 weeks.

I fully appreciate the unprecedented challenges currently facing our health service. The Chief Nursing Officer has said there are no quick fixes to waiting lists but surely there is a need to give hope to patients who have already been waiting an inordinate amount of time simply to get a diagnosis or start the journey to treatment.

The Economy Minister today published the Economy Recovery Action Plan and it critical that the Minster of Health brings forward revised plans and gives renewed clarity on a roadmap to restoring routine health services. There needs to be a recognition that a single-track focus on Covid-19, particularly as transmission drops, is a threat to fairness and equality within our health service.

I recognise that securing better outcomes will require a concerted effort across departments. It must go hand in hand with the aims of transformation and ultimately appropriate funding will be need to drive forward lasting change. However, that work must start now. We cannot store up these problems for the future.

Northern Ireland may have weathered the brunt of the Covid storm, but the Health Minister must send a message that ever growing waiting lists will not be allowed to become the health crisis of tomorrow.’’