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News / October 13, 2023

BDA criticises ‘misleading’ NI hospital waiting times portal

by Rowan Thomas

online waiting times portal

The British Dental Association (BDA) claims the My Waiting Times NI portal, intended to provide an estimate of hospital wait times in Northern Ireland, is ‘unhelpful and misleading’.

The My Waiting Times NI portal was launched by the Department of Health in May. It aims to enable patients to check how long they are likely to wait for specialist hospital appointments. This includes hospital dental care such as restorative dentistry, oral surgery and orthodontics.

The BDA has said that ‘choices made in the design of the hub are systemically underestimating waiting times’. The estimated waiting time is an average of how long all patients had been waiting when the data refreshed. This does not provide an accurate representation of how long a patient will wait to be seen as those recently added to the list lower the calculated average.

The portal does not explain that the stated times do not represent the overall waiting period.

The same methodology is understood to apply across all branches of secondary care. For example, wait times for referrals to the orthodontic department in the Northern Trust were estimated at 11 weeks. However, the BDA reports that audits found the real figure to be closer to 26 weeks.

‘Simply disingenuous’

Darren Johnston, chair of the BDA’s Northern Ireland Hospital Dental Services Forum, said: ‘Presenting waiting times in this way is simply disingenuous. It misrepresents what we are seeing in our clinics and is compounding the stress being experienced by both patients and clinicians.’

The chair also emphasised the impact of this on dental professionals. He said: ‘Sadly, these gross underestimates don’t just mislead patients, they also generate additional workload for staff.’

The BDA called for an urgent review of the ‘unhelpful and misleading’ portal to ensure it reflects real waiting times. It suggested ‘a more viable approach would be to publish, and routinely update, completed case wait times’.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: ‘Northern Ireland’s waiting lists are a result of years of sustained pressure with demand for care and treatment outstripping hospital capacity.’

They continued: ‘We are acutely aware of the consequences of waiting times for patients and their families. We also recognise the additional frustration when people do not have easily accessible information on how long they will have to wait.’

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