PATIENTS in Blackburn, Hyndburn and the Ribble Valley are waiting up to 71 weeks to see an orthopaedic consultant, new figures reveal.

Health watchdogs have expressed alarm about the delays to see specialists.

The figures were presented to a meeting of Blackburn, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley NHS Trust Board. But the area's Community Health Council (CHC) said it was aware of the problems and had been planning to raise the issue. Until recently waiting times for people suffering from orthopaedic problems were around a year but have taken a dramatic turn for the worse in the last three months. There have also been problems in waiting list times for people with eye problems. Some people who have been referred to see an ophthalmic consultant have to wait up to 59 weeks.

Nigel Robinson, chief officer of the CHC, said: "We have spoken to the trust and they say there are measures in place to reduce the waiting times."

Most cases dealt with by ophthalmic consultants are cataracts. The service is based at Blackburn Royal Infirmary, but run by Burnley Health Trust.

Paul Brownrigg, Blackburn, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley Trust's surgery and anaesthetics manager, said: "Orthopaedics should be seen in the context of the national situation. To some extent we are a victim of our success, because of improvements in treatments in recent years the waiting times have increased. The government has identified the problem and say orthopaedics will be one of the key areas they will be looking at next year. One of our consultants has recently retired from the NHS and we will be appointing new consultants."

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