Health Minister Robin Swann has described the latest waiting time statistics as “very disappointing but not unexpected”.
The newly published statistics reflect the position at 31 March 2020.
The Minister stated: “No one has been in any doubt that performance in this area has been under intense pressure for some time, although steps were being taken to build capacity whilst implementing new innovative ways of working.
“The onslaught of Coronavirus is something that we could never have contemplated when we started the transformation of health and social care, and the truth is that today’s statistics only cover the position to the end of March, so simply provide an early indication of the full impact of the virus on waiting times. I need to be very honest and signal that the figures for the next quarter, when published, will make even more depressing reading.
“But, just as there was no doubt about scale of the challenge before Coronavirus, equally no one can be in any doubt that a quick fix is simply not realistic. Successfully attacking these waiting times will take time and money, and can only be achieved if additional long term funding is made available – such funding must be over and above that needed to run existing services. I have been very clear on this point since taking up post.
“Even with significant additional investment, the task of putting this right will be immensely challenging. For the foreseeable future, we will have to plan around the continuing threat posed by Covid-19. This will severely constrain the capacity of our hospitals to scale up activity - social distancing in hospitals means reduced numbers in waiting rooms and on theatre lists.
“We have started the process of re-building our health and social care system – and it is essential that our emphasis is ‘re-building’ rather than ‘restoring’. The truth is that our health service will never be the same again – the challenge for us is to make that reality an opportunity rather than a threat. The way we use services will have to change and innovations like virtual clinics will increasingly become the norm.
“For those who think or call for a return to where we were at the start of January, I simply say we cannot go there. The system was broken and struggling then so simply returning to the same place would be a disservice not just to those who are waiting but to all those who have worked so hard in the last few weeks.
“We must capture the lessons and innovation from our response to Coronavirus, and seek to build on the ingenuity and flexibility of the wonderful workforce across Health and Social Care. As I have said before, it was only their dedication and commitment that held the service together before this epidemic struck and, given what we have asked of them though the recent weeks and how they have responded, we simply cannot ask any more of them. We must change.
“Opportunities exist to transform services for the better but we need to be realistic about what is achievable in the short term.”