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A&E units still failing to hit targets over waiting times

By Victoria O'Hara

The number of patients waiting more than 12 hours for A&E treatment has dropped within three months, but emergency units are still failing to hit government targets, new figures have confirmed.

Despite an improvement between October and December, Northern Ireland still has the worst performance in the UK for treating patients within four hours.

Health Minister Jim Wells said it showed the emergency care services continued to face "enormous pressures". In December 2014, 73.5% of patients going to A&E were treated and discharged, well below waiting times in England where 90.2% of patients were seen.

Current targets for emergency care states that 95% going to A&E are either treated and discharged home, or admitted, within four hours. No patient should wait longer than 12 hours.

Figures released earlier this month showed 92 waited longer than 12 hours but the updated report published by the Department of Health yesterday revealed the overall waiting times from October to December.

It had dropped from 141 in October. The Royal Victoria Hospital showed the "most notable" improvement in performance, dropping from 87 to 43 people waiting more than half a day.

However in January, trusts were forced to introduce escalation plans to cope with a spike in the number of patients going to A&E. The Health and Social Care Board reported a 12% increase in patients with fractures going to the A&E between December 22 and January 5 compared to the same period the year before. And around 1,800 more patients were in A&E departments than usual over new year - a 7.5% spike.

Attendances at emergency departments and minor injuries units during that three months increased by more than 2,355, compared to the same period last year.

Mr Wells said he looked "to further improvements being secured in achieving the four-hour target".

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