Mid Ulster neurology patients face wait of up to two years for appointment

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The health of hundreds of local people living with Multiple Sclerosis is being put at risk as some wait two years for appointments with specialists.

The latest figures for the Northern Trust, which includes the Cookstown and Magherafelt areas, reveal that in September there were 452 patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for a first appointment with a neurology specialist - over half of all patients.

But the Northern Trust has revealed that some patients have been waiting for two years to see a neurologist.

A spokesperson said: “Patients living in the Northern Trust area receive neurology services through outreach clinics at Causeway Hospital, by clinicians employed by BHSCT and at Antrim Hospital by a consultant employed by the NHSCT.”

They also revealed that the current waiting time for first outpatient appointments are two years at Causeway Hospital - a service that is provided by Belfast Trust and 15 months at Antrim Hospital under the Northern Trust.

The government targets are that no one should wait longer than 18 weeks for their first outpatient appointment with 60% of patients waiting no longer than nine weeks.

In response to the figures, the charity, MS Society Northern Ireland is calling for a “fundamental system change” to deal with the waiting list backlog and to ensure equal access to treatment and services for all patients.

The latest measure of performance for the quarter ending September 30 2015 shows that Northern Ireland as a whole did not meet either outpatient appointment waiting time targets, nor did any of the individual health trusts.

Health Minister Simon Hamilton said the reason for lengthy waiting times for neurology appointments is similar to many other specialities – the demand for outpatient consultations currently exceeds capacity – and that £40m secured in November’s monitoring round (when Stormont’s Executive reallocates unspent money) is to be spent on tackling waiting lists.