Big drop in A&E waits ...but Edwin Poots wants more
Northern Ireland casualty departments are still failing to hit targets set out by the Health Minister Edwin Poots despite a huge improvement in waiting times, new figures have revealed.
Department of Health statistics reveal huge drops across the board in the numbers of patients waiting longer than 12 hours to be treated in A&Es.
But they are still not achieving the minister's target of 95% of patients being treated in four hours.
The figures for April to June 2013 show the number of patients waiting over 12 hours dipped from 1,008 to 249.
At Antrim Area Hospital – under fire for failing waiting times – figures fell from 335 patients waiting 12 hours in April to zero.
Across Northern Ireland the percentage of patients treated within four hours rose from 67.2% to 77.8%. Despite the marked improvement in performance, A&E departments are still 17.2% below the target set by Mr Poots.
He also set a target for 2013/14 that no one should wait 12 hours or more for A&E treatment.
In June 249 people in A&E departments in Northern Ireland had to wait longer than 12 hours.
The figures also show that 196 – 82% – of the 237 patients waiting over 12 hours attended the Ulster Hospital, up 119 patients from the month before.
A South Eastern Health Trust spokeswoman said staff at the Ulster Hospital were working "extremely hard" to achieve targets.
"The trust continues to focus on that group of patients who have to wait longer, due to the high level of activity in the Ulster Hospital," the spokeswoman added.
At Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital the number of patients waiting four hours or less rose from 59.6% in April to 71.2% – still below the target.
Mr Poots welcomed the figures but described lengthy waits for patients as "unacceptable".
He vowed to "continue to press" the trusts to eradicate delays.
Last year Mr Poots said all trusts had to eliminate 12-hour waits in three months, adding that "heads would roll" if targets were not met. Experts were brought in to support Antrim Area Hospital to boost performance.
Mr Poots said: "Most encouraging is the change delivered at Antrim Area Hospital where no patients waited more than 12 hours in June 2013, compared to 335 in April 2013. I wish to commend the staff at Antrim Area Hospital on their performance, which I hope will be sustained."
He added: "Improvements have also been delivered at Altnagelvin, Causeway, Craigavon and the Royal Victoria."
Olive MacLeod at the Northern Trust said a range of measures to reduce waiting times had been adopted in Antrim Area.
"A whole system approach has been used, meaning all activity is not solely focused on the ED (emergency department) but on improving patient flow throughout the hospital to create capacity for ED admission," she said.
The Belfast Trust said it recognised that demands for emergency care services were "undoubtedly challenging".
"It is disappointing that we were unable to see all patients within the indicated timeline, which is what we aim to do," a spokeswoman said.
The Western Trust's Geraldine McKay said it was "committed" to ensuring patients wait as short a time as possible at Altnagelvin.