Caught in the chaos of A&E: Woman (73) with suspected pneumonia waits eight hours on trolley as 11 ambulances queue to unload patients
Serious concerns about the impact of budget cuts on the Health Service have been raised after "chaotic" scenes at the Royal Victoria's emergency department over the weekend.
Belfast man Tommy Hall hit out at conditions in Northern Ireland's biggest hospital after he had to take his ill and elderly mother there.
Mr Hall travelled with his 73-year-old mother to the Royal's casualty on Saturday night, after the out-of-hours doctor called her an ambulance.
He was left horrified by their lengthy wait for a bed and the pressure on the department. He said that at one stage, 11 ambulances were queued up, waiting to be able to leave patients off.
His mother, who did not wish to be named, was placed on a trolley in the waiting room area and waited eight hours to be seen by a doctor, he said.
Mr Hall described the scene in A&E as "chaotic", with drunk people and self-harmers among crowds waiting to be seen.
The concerned son had called his mother's out-of-hours doctor at 6.10pm on Saturday after a chest infection left her in serious pain.
He told the Belfast Telegraph that the doctor got to them by around 10pm, and immediately called an ambulance and said the woman needed to be on an antibiotic drip because of pneumonia.
But the pensioner was not seen until 6.30am the following morning - and instead of a drip, was given an injection of penicillin and sent away with antiobiotics and steroids.
She was discharged at around 7am as there was no bed for her.
Mr Hall called on Stormont to think again about funding for the Health Service.
He paid tribute to the work and professionalism of the doctors and nurses, but said they were chronically short of resources.
A spokeswoman for the Belfast Health Trust confirmed there was extra pressure on the Royal's accident and emergency department at the weekend.
She said the last number of days had seen an increase in the number of patients requiring admission into the hospital system.
"We would prefer that patients did not have to wait for beds and staff make every effort to ensure this does not happen," she said.
"However, if patients have had to wait longer than expected, we apologise most sincerely for this situation."
The spokeswoman also thanked health service staff.
"We would also like to thank all our staff who work extremely hard, in sometimes very difficult circumstances, to ensure patients are treated in a caring and professional manner," she said.
"Staff also ensure that patients who need admission receive appropriate assessment, care and treatment and are kept as comfortable as possible while they wait for a bed to become available.
"During periods when there is pressure on the system, staff will ensure that plans are put in place to alleviate the problems.
"This may include opening new beds and bringing in additional staff, or turning down some elective surgery for a short period," the spokeswoman said.
She urged the public not to attend an Emergency Department unless it was an emergency.
"We would like to remind the public that if you are not an emergency, minor healthcare issues can be dealt with at home, by a pharmacist or by a GP," she said.
"However, it is important at this time of year that we all take care of ourselves and also look out for your neighbours, especially if they are elderly."