The numbers of people who have waited past the agreed targets for their first appointment with a neurologist in the Southern Health Trust have risen dramatically in less than a year.
By December 2015, nearly two out of three people (60 per cent) had been waiting for an appointment over the 18 week target for waiting times - a rise of eight per cent in just nine months. Many would be people waiting for a diagnosis of MS.
The MS Society is calling for a shake-up of neurological services to improve the current waiting times for appointments.
To ensure everyone with MS has an annual appointment, the charity believes there needs to be at least six dedicated MS clinics a month in the SHSCT - led by a neurologist with a special interest in MS with input from MS nurses and other support services - to improve patient outcomes.
Patricia Gordon, director of the MS Society NI, said, “We welcome the £70million additional funding that has been allocated to waiting times by the Department for Health, Social Services and Public Safety in recent months but we need to see tackling neurology waiting times prioritised.
“We need to see an improvement in neurology waiting times soon or people with MS will continue to feel at the bottom of the pile.”
A Southern Health Trust spokesperson said, “We very much regret the increasing waiting times being experienced by our patients.
“Demand for hospital services across Northern Ireland continues to grow beyond the capacity that is currently available. A decision was taken (in July 2014) by The Health & Social Care Board to suspend additional clinics within our hospitals and within the independent sector due to the financial constraints within public services in NI.
“Unfortunately, the loss of this capacity coupled with a further rise in demand for services has led to increased waiting times for all specialities including neurology.
“We are continuing to work with the Health and Social Care Board to do everything possible to reduce waiting times.”