THE local health service is approaching a crisis situation, as burgeoning waiting lists and continuing industrial action combine to exacerbate the risk to patient welfare.
New figures reveal that over 40,000 people are currently waiting for consultant appointments within the Western Trust alone, and coupled with the ongoing walks-outs by healthcare workers, fears are now rife that patients could be left in treatment limbo.
Whilst GPs have branded the waiting lists “unacceptable” – it is understood that thousands of patients are already being forced to wait over a year for an appointment – the Department of Health’s Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly has appealed to unions, “Please don’t allow a bad situation to become worse.”
Unison-represented health workers are currently in the second week of industrial action over pay and staffing and further disruption to hospitals is expected when nurses strike on December 18.
“For its part, the Western Trust has said that the recent wave of industrial action poses a “significant risk to patient safety.”
Unison admits that the planned withdrawal of labour by nurses in two weeks would be ‘very serious’ but said it will serve as a ‘very big wake up call’ for the Department of Health.
Omagh Unison representative Andy McKane also said it is “shameful” that the Department attempts to blame the strike action for the current state of the health service.
“This is an absolute last resort for staff and it is important that the public knows this,” he stressed.
“These staff members do not want to be out striking – they want to be looking after their patients. We are only into week two of industrial action but the waiting lists have been increasing for years.”
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