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Northern Ireland emergency waiting times still not hitting targets

Statistics released by the Department of Health show Northern Ireland’s emergency waiting times have improved recently but are not yet hitting targets.

In June 2009, 88.6% of patients waited fours hours or less for treatment. The figures for June 2010 show this figure has dropped to 85.6%.

Information on waiting times is collected every month by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in the form of an Emergency Care return.

The top-performing A&Es were Whiteabbey, Mid Ulster, Ards Minor Injury Unit, Bangor MIU, South Tyrone, Armagh/Mullinure and Tyrone County, who saw all patients within four hours.

The Emergency Care return was introduced in April 2007 to measure a new Priorities for Action target which stated: “From April 2007, no patient should wait longer than 12 hours in A&E and, by March 2008, 95% of patients who attend A&E should be either treated and discharged home, or admitted within four hours of their arrival in the department.”

The report for March 2008 shows 92.2% of patients were discharged or admitted within four hours and a total of 28 out of 58,977 waited longer than 12 hours.

The most recent version, for 2010-11, stated that from April 2010 the goals were the same for “patients attending any A&E department”.

In recent months, the figures have moved in the right direction. Patients waiting four hours or less fell to a low of 79.8% in March 2010.

Between March and June, the percentage climbed nearly six points.

The number of patients waiting for 12 hours or more reached 1,146 in March 2010. This has dropped to 205 in June 2010.

Since March 2008, Type 3 A&Es have consistently treated all patients in four hours or less. Despite the fact that since then Whiteabbey and Mid Ulster’s A&Es have been downgraded to minor injury units, the overall statistics haven’t risen accordingly.

A Health Department spokesperson said: “It is not appropriate to compare performance in March 2008 with that in June 2010. Attendances at A&E departments increased during this period. Attendances at Whiteabbey and Mid Ulster account for approximately 2% of the total A&E attendances regionally, and therefore has very limited impact on the regional A&E performance.

“It should be noted that the changes introduced by the Northern Trust at Antrim Hospital resulted in a significant improvement in performance in June 2010 compared with previous months.”

Furthest from target, with figures above or around 70%, were the Mater Hospital, Altnagelvin, Belfast City Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital, all busy Type 1 A&Es. Type 1 high-achievers included Daisyhill, Causeway and RBHSC, with percentages in the 90s.

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