northern ireland hospitals

Concerns have been raised that the publicly available data on hospital waiting times in Northern Ireland significantly underestimates the actual waiting times, potentially being as much as twice the reported figures.

In May, the Department of Health launched the My Waiting Times NI portal, enabling patients in Northern Ireland to check estimated waiting times for specialist hospital appointments online. Initially focusing on average waiting times for first outpatient hospital appointments, the portal has expanded to include the latest waiting time information for inpatient and day case treatments.

However, a thorough analysis indicates that the design of the portal systematically underestimates the waiting times, likely affecting all branches of secondary care.

The current quoted data is calculated based on the average of ‘active waiters,’ encompassing all individuals on the waiting list at the date of data refresh. This method fails to provide an accurate representation of how long an average patient will wait for an appointment, as it includes newly added patients who bring down the overall waiting times.

Using this flawed methodology, average routine referrals for the Hospital Orthodontic Department in the Northern Trust have been inaccurately estimated at as little as 11 weeks. Audits conducted by frontline staff suggest a more realistic figure of around 26 weeks for the initial assessment.

Darren Johnston, Chair of the Northern Ireland Hospital Dental Services Forum, expressed dissatisfaction with the current presentation of waiting times. He stated, “Presenting waiting times in this way is simply disingenuous and misrepresents what we are seeing in our clinics, compounding the stress experienced by both patients and clinicians. Sadly, these gross underestimates not only mislead patients but also generate additional workload for staff. Our patients deserve to know how long they can expect to wait for care. As it stands, this website won’t provide them with that information.”

GP leaders have also voiced concerns that the available data does not accurately reflect the reality of waiting times.

The Department of Health has attempted to defend its methodology, stating that the “methodology used for My Waiting Time NI ensures a comparative analysis and consistent approach to reporting waiting time information to patients and healthcare professionals.”

However, it is evident that the figures provided do not effectively represent the overall waiting times. This misrepresentation is not only unhelpful and misleading but also contradicts the stated purpose of the portal.

It is imperative that the Department of Health promptly reviews the metrics supporting this portal and ensures that it accurately reflects the real waiting times faced by patients across all specialties. A more appropriate approach would involve publishing and regularly updating completed case wait times.


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