Northern Ireland

Health trust gets £1m to send waiting list patients to private sector

Hands Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption An email said the £1m must be spent by the end of March

The Belfast Health Trust has been allocated £1m in order to send patients currently on waiting lists to be treated in the private sector instead, the BBC has learned.

The allocation was made at the start of February.

The money must be spent by the end of March 2017, according to an email seen by the BBC.

The email told medical staff to refer "long waiting patients suitable for the independent sector".

It said to refer those who require treatment for "spines, hip and knee, lower and upper limbs".

The news comes after the health minister said on Tuesday that more than £31m is required to treat patients who have been waiting more than a year for some appointments.

Michelle O'Neill said she was confident the money would be agreed after the election on 2 March.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption In 2015, when £40m was allocated towards waiting list, the money could not be spent in time

The funding to the private sector does not include money to treat outpatients.

The email goes on to say that the £1m funding move does not affect any "in-house" funding, which the trust received in the past four months, and that staff can continue to backfill lists and carry out weekend work when teams are available.

While most people waiting may not mind when their operation is performed, it is understood that doctors and nurses would have preferred for the additional money be invested in the health service instead.

In 2015, when the then health minister allocated £40m towards waiting lists, the money could not be spent in time and only half of the amount when on operations.

That was because hospitals do not have the capacity or the staff to spend the money in such a short space of time.

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