16 January 2006

Heart patients 'waiting too long'


The number of people with heart conditions waiting to see a specialist has risen to an unacceptable level, a charity has warned.

The Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke Association said people in NI were waiting 18 months for treatment.

NICHSA Chief Executive Andrew Dougal said people did not go on a waiting list until they saw a consultant.

Nearly one in 10 cardiac patients were waiting more than a year for their important first appointment, he said.

"This is totally unacceptable," Mr Dougal said.

The charity said many patients were caught in a "medical limbo", between being diagnosed by a GP and seen by a specialist.

In some other EU countries the waiting period for treatment was six weeks, he said.

However, the speed of treatment in Northern Ireland improved once people had seen a consultant.

"Ministers have set a target time of three months between seeing a GP and having a consultation with a specialist, but this target time is being met in only two out of five cases," Mr Dougal pointed out.

"This is not an impressive percentage."

He said that NICHSA had talked to successive health ministers about the need to plan for the future when appointing cardiologists, but that this appeal had "fallen on deaf ears".

Many vacancies were filled by a locum, or remained unfilled because of a lack of suitable candidates, he said.

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