Private Members Business: Waiting Lists Crisis

Mr Beggs: I support the motion. There are 375,000 people waiting. These are citizens who are in ill health and may well be suffering along with their family. That represents 20% of the population, which is quite stark when you think about it in those terms. This would not be tolerated in England, Scotland or Wales, so why do we tolerate it in Northern Ireland?

The DUP, which controls the Health and Finance Departments, is exposed for its underfunding of the health service and failure to act on the warnings that were given by Michael McGimpsey when he indicated what lay ahead with the Budget that was approved by many who are now complaining. I recall a clinician talking recently about the situation in the health service, and he compared it to an airport where the aeroplanes were being parked on the grass or on the tarmac and were not being allowed to take off. Essentially, we manage our health service in Northern Ireland by parking patients in not just one queue but multiple queues. There are 212,000 people in the queue to get a first appointment, which is up almost 46% on a year ago. That must be of concern to everybody. There are 10,000 patients in the queue for an integrated clinical assessment and treatment (ICAS) and diagnosis. There are almost 90,000 people, up 11% on the previous year, in the queue for the specialist diagnostic service, which provides clinicians with additional information to get to the root of the problem. In July 2015 30,000 people were waiting for nine weeks or more. After that, you have to wait for your diagnostic report to come through. I see that 95% are completed within two weeks, but that is still a time delay. Ninety-nine per cent must wait for four weeks, so there is a section of people waiting even longer.

The next queue is the inpatient admission queue, in which there are 60,000 people who have been assessed as needing treatment and needing to be admitted to hospital. That is up 20% on the previous year. Almost half of those people have been waiting for more than 13 weeks, and a quarter more than 26 weeks. It is queue after queue after queue, and, as my colleague Jo-Anne Dobson highlighted, delays cause concern to patients and their families, but, worse than that, their conditions can often deteriorate. That is what is obviously happening here. Let us be very clinical about this: that is causing more treatment in the NHS because people’s conditions are worsening and more money has to be spent trying to put the problem right once the patient gets to the front of the multiple queues.

I think of the simple example of diabetes, an issue that arose when I was on the Health Committee. Insufficient money was being put into providing the advice and support service so that diabetics could better look after themselves. What has been the net result? Our failure to invest in that service has meant that we have higher levels of amputations than other places. Particularly at that time, the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, which covers my area, had a higher number of amputations. There was a higher likelihood of having a limb amputated in the Northern Trust area than in any other part of Northern Ireland because of the then inadequacy of the service. I believe that the situation has improved a bit since then, but we need to do lots of smart things to ensure that people are treated quickly.

How do we compare to other parts of the National Health Service? I had a look at the NHS England publication that came out around the same time — July 2015 — to see how it has been doing. As the Chair of the Health Committee said, England, Scotland and Wales do not operate with multiple queues and waiting times that are frequently breached. They have a referral time that is not to the next queue but to treatment. The important thing to a patient is this: when am I going to be treated? That is a very sensible measurement, which forces all the various cogs in the health service to work together to find solutions to get the patient treated quicker.

At this time, we have this fragmented service, where everybody gets parked in a different queue, and somebody then blames somebody else. Everybody needs to work together to get solutions and to get treatment faster. With that faster treatment will come more efficient systems and more patients treated in a better manner.

I was astounded when I read that report from England. It tells us that 1·9% of patients wait more than six weeks for a diagnostic test —

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Dallat): The Member’s time is almost up.

Mr Beggs: — and that 92·9% are seen and treated within 18 weeks. We need to change our system. We need better value for money and decisions to be made so that our constituents are better served.

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