Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has expressed her shock after it was revealed the total number of people waiting longer than the maximum time of 18 weeks for their first appointment with a consultant at Craigavon Area Hospital has jumped from 187 to 8,752 in only three years.
Mrs Dobson, the UUP’s Health Spokesperson, said: “The official government target is that no one should have to wait longer than 18 weeks for their first appointment with a consultant.
“However I was shocked to see that the number of people waiting longer than this at Craigavon Area Hospital has jumped from 187 in 2013 to 8,752 in the same period in 2015 – this is nothing short of scandalous.
“It is an outrageous situation, indeed the total number of people waiting longer than the maximum time across Northern Ireland had swelled from 6,923 in 2013 to 109,256 last September.
“I took the opportunity at this week’s Stormont Health Committee to challenge the Department of Health officials on their lack-lustre response to these staggering waiting time statistics as their numbers often mask the painful reality felt by patients who are left to wait weeks and months on end.
“I requested an update on the September figures and was told that situation had worsened further to over 119,000 people and that numbers had been rising by around 5,000 to 6,000 patients each month.
“As a Committee member I have been aware of the growing pressures, however the extent of the problem has now for the first time been revealed to my Party at Stormont, and it is immense.
“Targets exist for the very obvious reason that the longer patients are forced to wait for treatment the greater harm they may ultimately come to.
“Each of those 8,752 people waiting longer at Craigavon have been badly failed and totally let down by the Health Minister, Simon Hamilton.
“Amongst those left waiting will be people anxiously awaiting a further test or diagnosis, as well as many others in pain and discomfort wondering, worrying and waiting.“But we must never forget that behind each person waiting is a family worrying for the care of their loved one, the personal plights of those experiencing delays are heart-breaking.
“The crisis facing our local NHS is unprecedented and this has contributed to the fact that the numbers of people waiting for hospital treatment, as well as the lengths of time they are being forced to wait, is now greater than any year in recent history.
“Even before the return of Stormont over 15 years ago, when hospitals waiting lists were considered outrageous, many people were receiving a more timely service than what they are now.”