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Northern Ireland A&Es are worst in the UK at hitting waiting time targets

By Victoria O'Hara

Struggling emergency units across Northern Ireland are the worst in the UK at hitting waiting time targets as A&E departments prepare for the busiest period of the year.

Figures show that as pressures in England's A&E units hit record levels, the province is the poorest performing in the UK. NHS England revealed that just under 90% of patients were seen within the four-hour Government target from December 7-14. This is the lowest percentage of patients since monitoring began in 2010.

However, the most up-to-date figures show that, in November, 80.5% of patients were seen in four hours at A&E units here.

In Northern Ireland, 95% of patients are expected to be treated within that time and no one should wait more than 12 hours. A further breakdown by the Department of Health shows that, in November, 7,967 attended the Royal Victoria Hospital A&E and 68.5% were seen inside the four-hour target.

In Antrim Area's emergency unit 5,887 went to the department for treatment, but only 67.2% were seen within the target.

The Belfast Telegraph reported in October how the number of patients waiting 12 hours for emergency care jumped by a massive 550% between July and September.

A task force headed by Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride was set up to improve standards with the aim of eliminating all avoidable 12-hour waiting time breaches and making significant progress towards achieving the four-hour standard.

Health Minister Jim Wells described the long waits as "unacceptable" and has invested an additional £5m into improving care. Among the steps are an urgent care area and frailty unit at the Ulster Hospital and a medical assessment centre opened at Craigavon Area Hospital to try and ease A&E pressures.

A Health Department spokesman said: "Last year the HSC (trusts) achieved a 44% reduction in 12-hour waits. The minister has allocated £5m of additional funding to address winter pressures in delivering unscheduled care.

"This money will be used to improve patient flow from emergency departments and expand capacity, as required, over the winter period."

The figures come as the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service appeals for people to think before ringing 999 this December. It responds to around 400 emergency callouts every 24 hours and has seen a 15% increase over the past five years.

Factfile

In November, 80.5% of patients were seen in four hours at A&E units in Northern Ireland - the target is 95%. No one should wait over 12 hours. In November, 7,967 attended the Royal Victoria Hospital A&E and 68.5% were seen within four hours. In Antrim Area emergency unit, 5,887 people went to the department that month, but only 67.2% were seen within four hours. In Wales 83.8% of patients were seen within four hours and in Scotland 93.5% were treated within the target. £5m of additional funding to address winter pressures has been invested into unscheduled care in Northern Ireland.

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