18 June 2002
By Nigel Gould
ULSTER patients, with potentially crippling illnesses, are waiting more than two years just for a first appointment to see a hospital consultant, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today.
Shock figures reveal further that nearly 2,000 people have been waiting for at least three months for a first out-patient appointment with a consultant neurologist.
Almost 800 patients across Ulster have waited between three and five months for a first appointment while an incredible 226 have been waiting more than a year.
Five of these patients have been waiting more than two years for a first out-patient appointment.
Overall, latest figures from the end of 2001, show almost 3,000 people on a waiting list for a first appointment in hospital neurology departments.
Disturbingly, most cases are in breach of Charter standards for general out-patient treatment which states that patients should have their first out-patient appointment within three months.
Dr Brian Patterson, one of the province's top GPs, said today the situation was extremely worrying.
And he revealed that it could be up to three years before patients got a definitive diagnosis for their condition.
"If you came to me with a potential neurology problem I will have to tell you that you will not be given an acceptable waiting time to see a consultant unless you have private insurance," he said.
"It just can't be done. My suggestion will be to contact your MLA or MP.
"We are talking here of people who have potentially very serious crippling illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, Motor-Neurone's Disease and Parkinson's.
"I had one patient who turned up at a neurology clinic, only to be told that his appointment was for the same day - the following year."
The new figures were revealed in a reply by Health Minister, Bairbre de Brun, to a written question by DUP MLA for south Belfast, Mark Robinson.
The statistics show that nearly 2,000 people have been waiting for a
first appointment in the Eastern Health Board area; 555 in the Western
Board area; 307 in the Southern Board and 74 in the Northern Board.
©2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd