A&E 'descends into chaos' as 600 patients wait more than 12 hours before treatment
Warning as new figures show 600 patients are spending more than 12 hours before treatment at A&E
Waiting times across Northern Ireland A&E departments are "descending into chaos" it has been claimed after shocking figures reveal more than 600 people are waiting 12 hours for treatment.
The Department of Health said the latest figures which show there were 206 more people waiting half a day in emergency departments in March compared to the year before were "a reflection of the enormous pressures on our Emergency Departments".
It has led to warnings that the situation facing the stretched health service is "deteriorating rapidly", with the Patient Client Council describing the waiting times as "unacceptably high".
In the last year the number of patients waiting 12 hours jumped from 408 to 614.
The new figures from the Department of Health also show a worrying rise in waiting times at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Northern Ireland's flagship emergency department had the most notable rise in 12-hour waits, almost doubling from 125 to 221 in the past year.
In February, only 52% of people going to the RVH were treated within four hours - a huge breach of the 95% ministerial target.
Waiting times all dropped by around 5% in Antrim Area, Craigavon and the Mater Hospitals in the space of only three months.
UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson slammed the figures, saying the situation was "deteriorating rapidly".
"The reality is the longer people are forced to wait, the greater the risk," she said.
The Department of Health said all trusts continue to face challenging pressures through increased numbers of people going to Emergency Departments through 999 and GP urgent referrals.
Ms Dobson, who sits on the Stormont Health Committee, added: "While it is very easy for the minister and officials in the department to say that too many of the people who are attending A&Es don't need to, the reality is not enough focus is being given to the delivery of the service. The whole system is descending into chaos."
Maeve Hully, chief executive of the Patient and Client Council, said: "Waiting times for care and treatment in our health service remain unacceptably high and this includes waiting in our Emergency Departments.
"If the system is unable to reduce these waiting times, then people need to know what length of time they can expect to wait, before arriving in the Emergency Department."
A DHSSPS spokeswoman said: "Unfortunately there has continued to be a number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours to be either treated and discharged or admitted, and this has been caused in part by higher numbers of ambulances attending Emergency Departments and the number of patients needing to be admitted to beds.
"While this remains disappointing, out of over 61,000 attendances during March 2015, 99% of patients were treated and discharged or admitted within 12 hours."