By Niall McCracken
DESPITE a major drive by the Belfast Health Trust to reduce huge waiting lists for allergy and immunology treatment at the Royal Victoria Hospital, new figures obtained by The Detail show there are still 66 people – including 19 children – falling well outside the trust’s one month target for an “urgent appointment”.
Data released in response to a Freedom of Information request shows that as recently as February 2013, one child had been waiting for an appointment classified as “urgent” for almost a year.
Other long waiting times include an urgent adult immunology appointment on the waiting list for over 500 days by the end of January this year.
Urgent allergy appointments can include assessment of patients thought to have suffered an allergic reaction, often to food products. In the worst cases a severe reaction can lead to anaphylaxis which can cause death due to choking, acute shortness of breath or a sudden fall in blood pressure.
In May last year The Detail first revealed the extent of the backlog and long waiting times for people with serious immune deficiencies and urgent allergy problems at the RVH.
The trust currently has a 13 week target for routine allergy/immunology appointments and a four week target for urgent appointments.
The information we obtained under FOI also confirmed that the trust employed an independent sector consultant company to try and address the waiting list problem, at a cost of £275,255 from December 2011 to January 2013.
The waiting list data show that this has dramatically decreased the waiting list for adult appointments. However the number of urgent paediatric appointments falling outside the four week target has increased from May last year.
Our figures show that the number of children on the waiting list for more than four weeks for urgent appointments increased more than six fold over 10 months, from only three patients in May 2012 to 19 patients in March 2013.
The information requested under FOI shows that from December 2011 to January 2013, the independent provider carried out 85 clinics cost at a cost £251,665, while a further £23,590 was spent on administration costs such as receptionist cover and additional nursing staff.
Prior to October 2012 all patients seen by the clinic were classified as routine. After this date clinics dealt with a mixture of routine and urgent appointments.
The figures show that the number of adults on the waiting list for a routine appointment for longer than the 13 week target dropped dramatically from 661 patients in May 2012 to zero by March 2013. Similarly the number of patients missing their one month target for urgent adult appointments decreased from 274 patients in May 2012 to 47 in March 2013.
However, the trust confirmed that the extra consultant cover only addressed the adult waiting lists.
The trust claimed that during this period there was “no independent sector provider who could provide paediatric allergy/immunology clinical capacity to address the issue of urgent and routine paediatric allergy/immunology patients waiting more than 13 weeks.”
We can reveal that a private sector company only became available for paediatric patients in February of this year. Our figures show that at the end of February 2013 one child patient categorised as urgent had been waiting 354 days for an appointment.
Although the number of adults waiting for urgent appointments has decreased overall, an analysis of the longest wait for urgent appointments between May 2012 and March 2013 reveals that one adult had been on the urgent waiting list for 514 days by the end of January 2013.
In a statement to The Detail the trust said it: “apologised to any patient who waited longer than their target waiting time” and said that in recognising the demand for both routine/urgent adult and paediatric appointments it had employed an additional consultant allergist/immunologist this month (April 2013).