The “unbelievably shocking” waiting times for patients who have been referred to an Orthopaedic Clinic in the Western Health and Social Care Trust (WHSCT) was revealed at a recent meeting of the Fermanagh and Omagh Health and Services Group.

At the meeting it was revealed that since 2007, the waiting times for outpatients has risen from 13 weeks to 271 weeks (over five years) and for inpatients from 26 weeks to 242 weeks (over four and half years). Among the reasons given for the rise in waiting times were difficulties in recruitment of staff and a reduction in the number of people being seen in the independent (private) sector via referral from the NHS.

The WHSCT has also said that “due to financial constraints within recent years the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) were not in a position to fund the agreed gap in this service. This means that waiting times increase steadily, month on month and year on year”.

Councillor Josephine Deehan, at a subsequent meeting of the Council’s Policy and Resources meeting, described the figures as “unbelievably shocking”.

The figures were first revealed in a presentation by Mr. Kieran Lappin who is a Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon in the WHSCT and during discussion of the presentation it came to light that according to recommendations on the ratio of Orthopaedic Surgeon per head of population the WHSCT should have 26 consultants in place but at present only have 13, which has resulted in the staff “continually firefighting”.

Councillor Deehan was quick to pay tribute to those working in the area but said that something needed to be done to address the problem.

“I pay tribute to the orthopaedic team in the West for the work that they do. They are working at 50 per cent of their quota.” she said before adding:

“We should write urgently to the Chief Executive of the Trust and ask her urgently to implement some waiting list initiatives to try to reduce these waiting times. The impact that orthopaedic conditions can have on patients’ quality of life, the levels of pain, the levels of disability is totally shocking and unacceptable.”

The presentation from Mr. Lappin stated that: “Longer waiting lists impacted on patients in terms of increased pain, activities of daily living, relationships, addiction to opiates and employment.”

Responding to questions from The Impartial Reporter the WHSCT said that there were a number of reasons that waiting had risen over the past 12 years.

“In relation to increase in waiting times for surgery a number of factors influence this: 1. The Trust is continuing to manage increases in unscheduled (emergency) admissions to the hospital including fracture/trauma patients. 2. Winter pressures allow only urgent cases to be admitted. 3. There has been no independent sector provision allocated by HSCB this year and minimal in last number of years.”

The Trust spokesperson also said that routine patients will wait longer: “The Western Trust continues to chronologically manage all routine referrals from GPs and urgent referrals are prioritised after review by clinical staff.

“Similarly patients waiting for treatment are reviewed by clinical staff and clinically prioritised, this often means that patients needing routine treatments can wait a long time because clinically urgent patients take priority.”

In conclusion the Trust said that demand for “orthopaedic services across the whole of Northern Ireland is greater than the existing capacity to provide the service.”