The numbers of people who have waited past the agreed targets for their first appointment with a neurologist in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust (SHSCT) have risen dramatically in less than a year.
By December 2015, nearly two out of three people (60%) in SHSCT had been waiting for an appointment over the 18 week target for waiting times - a rise of 8% 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.
There are currently no clinics with MS Specialists in the SHSCT.
Four thousand people live with MS in Northern Ireland. MS attacks the nervous system. Symptoms include sight loss, pain, fatigue, incontinence and disability.
A spokesperson for the Southern Health and Social Care Trust 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 Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the loss of this capacity coupled with a further rise in demand for services has led to increased waiting times for all specialties including Neurology.
“Some additional recent funding has been secured and is being used to address waiting times for both outpatient and treatment waits. We are continuing to work with the Health and Social Care Board (which commissions services for the public) to do everything possible to reduce waiting times for our patients.”