New figures show that 130 patients in Northern Ireland have been forced to wait more than nine months for their first hospital appointment.
According to data released by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, overall waiting times have fallen across the province, but some people in need of specialist outpatient treatment are still facing lengthy delays.
The latest figures show that in December 2007, 134 patients had been waiting six months for their first outpatient appointment, while 130 of those had been waiting for nine months.
The report shows that a total of 74,000 people were awaiting an outpatient appointment in the month.
Health minister Michael McGimpsey said it is unacceptable that patients are having to wait more than six months to be seen. Although he stressed that the majority of people in this bracket are awaiting assessment by a private practitioner, he vowed to ensure they are all seen as quickly as possible.
He said: “It is unacceptable that a number of patients were waiting longer than six months for a first outpatient appointment and for surgery at the end of December.
“I have taken steps to ensure that all of these patients are seen or treated as quickly as possible, in most cases before the end of this month.”
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Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety