GPSI assessment plan cuts NI waiting times

A GP-led initiative has cut maximum outpatient waiting times in Northern Ireland to 26 weeks from GP referral.

Within a year of its implementation almost 74,000 patients have seen their waits cut. At the start of 2005, more than 30,000 patients in Northern Ireland had been waiting more than a year.

‘There is the start of a discernible difference in my surgery,’ said Belfast GP and Eastern LMC secretary Dr Jimmy Courtney.

GPSIs are manning integrated clinical assessment and treatment services (ICATs) alongside specialist nurses and other health professionals in a deal designed in discussion with GPC Northern Ireland, Dr Courtney said.

‘We see these services as a time-limited intervention designed to bring waiting times down. If they do their job successfully, they will become redundant.’

Dr Courtney said GPs would not want ICATs to ‘block’ appropriate referrals.

‘Partial booking’, whereby patients are called six weeks before their appointment is due is a ‘welcome addition’, Dr Courtney said.

But over 13 per cent of patients in the region still fail to attend outpatients, a census carried out last year by the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety
has revealed.

In a typical year, 390,000 patients in Northern Ireland do not attend, according to John Dowdall, the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland. The cost to the health economy is around £11.6 million, Mr Dowdall says in ‘Outpatients: missed appointments and cancelled clinics’.

Many clinics routinely overbook in order to plug gaps left by patients that do not attend.

At 13 per cent, Northern Ireland has a higher rate of non-attendance than any other part of the UK. The rate in England is 11 per cent, in Wales 10 per cent and in Scotland the first non-attendance rate is 10 per cent.

By March 2008, the target wait for a first appointment will drop to 13 weeks.

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