Quarterly Northern Ireland outpatient, inpatient and day case, and diagnostic waiting times statistics - position on 31 December 2023

Date published: 29 February 2024

The Department of Health today published the quarterly Northern Ireland Outpatient, Inpatient and Day Case, and Diagnostic Waiting Times Statistics, relating to the position on 31 December 2023.

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The Waiting Times Statistics releases provide detailed information on the number of people waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment, inpatient/day case treatment or a diagnostic test at hospitals in Northern Ireland.

On 9th November 2023 the South Eastern Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust launched "encompass" - a new electronic patient record system. Its roll out across the other Trusts will follow on a phased basis throughout 2024/25. Consequently, the data for South Eastern as at 31 December 2023 was not available at the time of this publication, as the Trust transitions to completely digitised health records.  Therefore, charts and figures presented throughout this report have excluded patients waiting for an admission to or appointment in the South Eastern Trust to allow comparisons to be made for the four remaining HSC Trusts compared with previous time points.  As such, any NI level figures presented throughout this report only include those for Belfast, Northern, Southern and Western HSC Trusts.

Waiting Times for a First Outpatient Appointment

  • figures in this section exclude the South Eastern Trust as data was not available for the position as at 31 December 2023.
  • the draft 2023/24 target relating to outpatient waiting times states that by March 2024, at least 50% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a first outpatient appointment, with no patient waiting longer than 52 weeks.
  • 341,910 patients were waiting for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment at hospitals in the Belfast, Northern, Southern and Western HSC Trusts on 31 December 2023, 1% (3,331) more than on 30 September 2023 (338,579), and 9.8% (30,514) more than on 31 December 2022 (311,396).
  • the median waiting time was 49.6 weeks and the 95th percentile waiting time was 257.4 weeks.
  • 84.1% (287,475) of patients were waiting more than nine weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment on 31 December 2023, compared with 82.9% (280,769) on 30 September 2023 and 83% (258,429) on 31 December 2022.
  • 47.8% (163,561) of patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for a first consultant-led outpatient appointment on 31 December 2023, compared with 47.4% (160,626) on 30 September 2023 and 47.9% (149,165) on 31 December 2022.

Waiting Times for Inpatient and Day Case Admission

  • figures in this section exclude the South Eastern Trust as data was not available for the position as at 31 December 2023.
  • the draft 2023/24 target, for inpatient and day case waiting times, states that by March 2024, 55% of patients should wait no longer than 13 weeks for inpatient or day case treatment, with no patient waiting longer than 52 weeks.
  • 97,794 patients were waiting for inpatient or day case admission to hospitals in the Belfast, Northern, Southern and Western HSC Trusts on 31 December 2023, 6.4% (6,679) fewer than on 30 September 2023 (104,473), and 12.7% (14,259) less than on 31 December 2022 (112,053).
  • the median waiting time was 58.4 weeks and the 95th percentile was 280.7 weeks (approximately 5 years and 30 weeks).
  • 77.9% (76,161) of patients were waiting more than 13 weeks for admission on 31 December 2023, compared with 79.0% (82,540) on 30 September 2023 and 78.7% (88,205) on 31 December 2022.
  • 52.4% (51,251) of patients were waiting more than 52 weeks for admission on 31 December 2023, compared with 52.5% (54,828) on 30 September 2023 and 54.3% (60,809) on 31 December 2022.

Waiting Times for a Diagnostic Service

  • figures in this section exclude the South Eastern Trust as data was not available for the position as at 31 December 2023.
  • the 2023/24 draft target for diagnostic waiting times states that, by March 2024, 75% of patients should wait no longer than nine weeks for a diagnostic test, with no patient waiting longer than 26 weeks.
  • 153,333 patients were waiting for a diagnostic test in the Belfast, Northern, Southern and Western HSC Trusts on 31 December 2023, 3.8% (5,596) more than on 30 September 2023 (147,737), and 16.0% (21,150) more than on 31 December 2022 (132,183).
  • 60.5% (92,815) of patients were waiting more than 9 weeks for a diagnostic test on 31 December 2023, compared with 58.5% (86,359) on 30 September 2023 and 55.0% (72,647) on 31 December 2022.
  • 33.9% (52,011) of patients were waiting more than 26 weeks for a diagnostic test on 31 December 2023, compared with 32.1% (47,478) on 30 September 2023 and 28.7% (37,876) on 31 December 2022.

Diagnostic Reporting Turnaround Times

  • figures in this section exclude the South Eastern Trust as data was not available for the position as at 31 December 2023.
  • the draft 2023/24 target for diagnostic reporting times states that, by March 2024, all urgent diagnostic tests should be reported on within two days of the test being undertaken.
  • 377,250 diagnostic tests were reported on at hospitals in the Belfast, Northern, Southern and Western HSC Trusts during the quarter ending December 2023. Of these, 26.0% (98,110) were urgent tests and the remaining 74.0% (279,140) were routine tests.
  • of the 98,110 urgent diagnostic tests, 78.3% (76,825) were reported on within 2 days.

Notes to editors: 

1. Publications are available on the Department website at:

https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/northern-ireland-waiting-time-statistics-diagnostic-waiting-times-december-2023  

https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/northern-ireland-waiting-time-statistics-inpatient-and-day-case-waiting-times-december-2023  

https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/publications/northern-ireland-waiting-time-statistics-outpatient-waiting-times-december-2023

2. About the Data

The sources for the data contained in these releases are:

  • HSC Trust’s Patient Administration Systems
  • DoH Outpatient Waiting Times Dataset
  • DoH CH3, QOAR, R-QOAR, V-QOAR and IS1 part 1 outpatient activity returns
  • DoH Inpatient Waiting Times Dataset
  • Hospital Inpatient System
  • DoH IS1 part 2 inpatient activity return
  • DoH SDR1 diagnostics return
  • DOH DRTT diagnostics return

3. Outpatient Definitions

An outpatient appointment is to enable a patient to see a consultant or a member of their team following an outpatient referral. The majority of referrals will be from a GP however they may also be received from a range of other sources.

These appointments provide an opportunity for consultation, investigation, and minor treatment. Appointments can be face-to-face or virtual and patients are not admitted into hospital.

A first attendance is the first of a series or the only attendance at an outpatient service.

Waiting time for a first outpatient appointment begins on the date the HSC Trust receives a referral to a consultant led service.

4. Inpatient and Day Case Definitions

Inpatient and day case waiting list data comprise the number of patients waiting for inpatient and day case admission to hospital.

Inpatient admissions are patients admitted electively with the expectation that they will remain in hospital for at least one night.

Day case admissions are patients admitted electively with the expectation that although they may require supervised recovery, they do not require the use of a hospital bed overnight and will return home as scheduled the same day.

Waiting time begins from the date the clinician decided to admit the patient.

The waiting list figures presented include people waiting to be admitted as inpatients either as day cases or inpatient admissions. They do not include:

  • Patients admitted as emergency cases
  • Patients waiting for planned admission i.e. patients given proposed date of admission determined by social or clinical criteria
  • Patients undergoing a planned programme of treatment e.g. a series of admissions for chemotherapy
  • Patients waiting for admission as a regular day or night attender
  • Patients waiting for maternity specialties (except where the intention is to terminate the pregnancy)
  • Patients waiting who are currently admitted for another reason
  • Patients who are temporarily suspended for medical or social reasons

5. Diagnostic Service Definitions

A diagnostic service provides an examination, test or procedure used to identify a person’s disease or condition and which allows a medical diagnosis to be made.

The diagnostic waiting list figures presented include people waiting for a test with a diagnostic element including tests that are part diagnostic and subsequently part therapeutic.  They do not include:

  • Patients currently admitted to a hospital bed and waiting for an emergency procedure
  • Purely therapeutic procedures.  A therapeutic procedure is defined as a procedure which involves actual treatment of a person’s disease, condition or injury
  • Patients undergoing a planned programme of tests
  • Patients waiting for procedures as part of a screening programme

6. Diagnostic Reporting Times Definitions

The diagnostic reporting turnaround time is the length of time between the diagnostic test being undertaken and the results being verified and dispatched to the referring clinician.

Diagnostic reporting times apply to a selected subset of diagnostic services.  These services are: Magnetic Resonance Imaging; Computerised Tomography; Non-Obstetric Ultrasound; Plain Film X-rays; Barium Studies; DEXA Scan; Radionuclide Imaging; Pure Tone Audiometry; Echocardiography; Perfusion Studies; Peripheral Neurophysiology; Sleep Studies; and Urodynamics Pressures and Flows.  Day case endoscopies are reported on the day of the test and are therefore excluded from diagnostic reporting times.

7. This information was collated by Hospital Information Branch, Department of Health.

Further information is available from:
Statistics@health-ni.gov.uk 
https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/topics/dhssps-statistics-and-research/hospital-waiting-times-statistics

8. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by e-mail pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk  

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10. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for Media Enquiries Only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The Duty Press Officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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