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New figures show rise in number of patients forced to wait 12 hours or longer at Northern Ireland A&Es

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 25/06/2016

Michelle O’Neill
Michelle O’Neill

The number of people waiting half a day to be treated, discharged from or admitted to hospital has risen in the past 12 months, figures have shown.

Some 3,875 waited longer than 12 hours compared with 3,170 the year before.

The Ulster Hospital had the highest increase during the period, with 871 more patients facing a delay.

However, compared to five years ago, the overall number of patients waiting half a day decreased "significantly" from 10,211 to 3,875.

Antrim Area had the "most notable" improvement in performance, dropping from 3,041 to 1,058.

Overall, 739,150 people attended emergency departments across Northern Ireland, and the percentage of those who waited more than 12 hours to be either treated, discharged or admitted came in at 0.5%.

Waiting times for emergency care and medical appointments are an urgent priority for the new Health Minister Michelle O'Neill.

More than 20% of the population here are currently on a waiting list, and there were 376,382 people waiting for a first outpatient appointment, diagnostic test or inpatient treatment as of March 31, 2016,

In her first speech to the Assembly as minister, Mrs O'Neil said "radical reform" was needed to tackle the stresses facing the local NHS.

The Sinn Fein MLA described current hospital waiting times as "completely unacceptable" and insisted that she needed "time, new investment and radical change to deliver services", adding that an extra £3m designed to address the waiting times crisis last November had helped approximately 80,000 patients.

In the Executive's June monitoring round, another £67m was allocated to the struggling health service, with Finance Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir explaining the cash brought the total budget to £200m.

But the UUP's Jo-Anne Dobson previously said new thinking, not more money, was the answer to the waiting times crisis.

"We desperately need to move to a sustainable model in order to allow our health service to plan for the future," she added.

After the announcement of the additional funding, the minister said: "As I have said before, I regret that patients are waiting excessive periods. The additional £67m made available is welcome, and I am currently considering how best this can be allocated in order to make the best impact.

"While it is clear more resources help, this is not the long-term solution. We need to transform the way we deliver our services if we are to deliver a better service for all patients."

However, Mrs O'Neill also admitted that any change would take some time.

"The group tasked at improving unscheduled care has moved into a new phase aimed at embedding improvement initiatives under the leadership of the chief executives of the HSC Board and the Public Agency, with a regional unscheduled network group and five locality unscheduled network groups, she added.

"I welcome this work. Additionally, I want to pay tribute to the frontline staff who are working very hard on a daily basis to meet patients needs."

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