Northern Ireland

Hospital waiting lists: Ex-health chief says lists could grow

John Compton
Image caption 'There are solutions to waiting lists are described in the document but they require a government and budget to be in place, otherwise they are just aspirational'- John Compton

The former head of the Health and Social Care Board has warned that without an executive in place hospital waiting list figures could grow.

John Compton said there was "no absolute guarantee" of the £31m the system needs to reduce current figures.

The health minister published her strategy to tackle hospital waiting lists on Tuesday.

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

The £31m would be used to treat patients who have been waiting more than a year for some appointments.

However, Mr Compton told BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show that while it was "highly probable that £31m will come through the system, there is no guarantee"

He added: "In the normal course of events, governments take the decision about spend of money and then tell the system to spend the money but in a situation where you don't have government there is always a slight degree of ambivalence, as to whether there is the authority to spend."


At the end of September, 16.3% (39,557) of patients were waiting more than a year for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment.

"I am genuinely shocked by the figure - the scale is really quite extraordinary," said Mr Compton.

"I would be surprised if that figure doesn't grow -without an executive," he added.

Mr Compton also said the plan, which outlined "aims to reduce the 52-week waiting time", is not an absolute commitment.

"They know it is a moving target and moving number - so it is impossible to give an absolute number. The intention is clearly to do it within a year," he said.

"The paper is only about waiting times, not the whole system. It's one component part if how the system will be reformed.

"The system faces about 6% pressures year on year. About 2% is for inflation, about 2% is for new treatments and 2% prevent is the consequences of having an older population."

"That means Northern Ireland needs around £300m each year to keep continuing to function."

He added: "In the absence of a proper budget the system will struggle. People will wait and there will be a problem with when, where and how people get seen."

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