People forced to seek operations abroad

A DROMORE man who has just returned from Lithuania after a hip operation would have had to wait upwards of four years for the same treatment within the Western Trust.

Figures released this week show that patients here are facing waiting times of three-to-four plus years for key trauma and orthopedic appointments and surgery.

The statistics were released to Fermanagh and Omagh Sinn Féin councillor, Barry McElduff, who had described the situation facing many local patients as ‘completely unacceptable’.

Speaking to the UH, Kevin McGrade from Dromore, said he may have been forced to wait until 2023 before getting his hip replacement surgery if he had not taken the decision to travel abroad.

“I got my first hip replacement completed around two years ago. Then when I contacted about getting the second one done I was initially told that the waiting time for an outpatients referral was nine months and then nearly four years for the operation,” he said.

“My pain was getting gradually worse, I wasn’t able to sleep after about 3am and my quality of life was being badly affected during the day as well. It was only going to get progressively worse if I’d waited.

“Sometime later it became apparent that it was going to take upwards of four years before the operation was likely to be done here and I simply couldn’t wait that long.

“The possibility of getting the operation carried out in Lithuania was then mentioned to me and I decided to go ahead with it.”

Mr McGrade travelled to eastern Europe for the procedure which took place last Tuesday, May 26. He travelled back to Ireland on Monday of this week.

Patients in Mr McGrade’s situation can expect to pay approximately £9,000 for the treatment.

The Western Trust figures show that it takes 208 weeks to get a referral for foot and ankle problems, 256.3 weeks for upper limbs and 133 weeks for joint replacements and other problems.

Maximum waiting times for inpatients are 209.6 weeks (foot and ankle), 219 weeks (upper limb) and 234.2 weeks (for joint replacement and other), while the maximum waiting times for day cases are 197.1, 224.9 and 206.9 respectively.

Mr McElduff said the situation was extremely unsatisfactory, not least due to the fact that each of the problems resulted in people suffering extensive pain.

“The Western Trust need to release the details about their plan to tackle these waiting times,” he said.

“What we have to remember is that most of the people who are waiting for years to have operations are older and are enduring pain throughout that time. “It is also having a wider impact on their mental, as well as physical, health.

“People will often show me confirmation of an expected operation, but sometimes don’t check the length of time that they will have to wait.

“The decision makers within the Western Trust need to pay greater attention to patients and come up with an action plan for reducing waiting list in orthopaedics.

“As a councillor, this is an issue which I intend to pursue. We need proof that this is being taken seriously, that the funding is in place to tackle this problem and to give reducing these waiting times a priority.”

The Western Trust has said in its correspondence that the figures are ‘maximum waiting times. They have said that the main reason for the excessive waiting times is that there is a recognised capacity gap in the service both for trauma and elective services.

“This is a significant gap and affects outpatient, inpatient and day case care,” they added.

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