Northern Ireland's A&E crisis must be dealt with
The latest statistics show that there is something terribly wrong at the heart of Northern Ireland's main hospital emergency department. An astonishing 190 patients attending A&E at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast had to wait more than 12 hours to be treated.
Everyone, from Health Minister Edwin Poots to Belfast Trust managers to the hard-pressed doctors and nurses in the department agree that the situation is unacceptable. What they seem incapable of agreeing is a way to improve the service.
Of course there are contributory factors, including a large increase in the number of people attending the emergency department in June. That led to the startling increase from one person who had to wait more than 12 hours in the same month last year to this year's total. Another reason put forward is that patients are presenting with more serious and complex illnesses which require longer hospital stays and therefore a shortage of beds for new patients.
And these all follow on from the closure of the A&E department at Belfast City Hospital which greatly, but unsurprisingly, increased the workload of the remaining units in and around the city.
According to frontline staff, there seems to be a lack of joined-up thinking in running health services in the Belfast area.
A group has been tasked with finding solutions to the problems and ensuring that there are well-defined pathways for patients to follow once they present at hospital.
What is frustrating for patients is that the problems are not new or unknown, yet the potential solutions are painstakingly slow in coming to the stage of implementation.
The Royal is Northern Ireland's flagship hospital and is home to the regional trauma unit. It is worrying that the expertise residing in that hospital takes so long to be delivered to some patients because of what a former clinical lead at A&E described as system failures.
The trust and the minister are fast running out of time to get their act together and provide patients and staff with the facilities and services they require.