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17,000 wait over 12 hours at Northern Ireland A&E in a year - figure over double previous year

'Health service in crisis'

By Jonathan Bell

Over 17,000 people waited in a Northern Ireland A&E in the past year - that was 10,000 more than the previous year.

The latest annual Department of Health statistics were described as "appalling" and demonstrated how emergency care is in "crisis".

Almost 800,000 people sought treatment in an A&E in the 2017/18 financial year with 68% of those attending a "type 1" facility - which handles the most severe cases - seen within the four hour target time. That was a slight drop of 1.5% compared to the previous year and a drop of almost 5% compared to 2013/14.

Almost 17,400 faced a wait of over 12 hours. That compared to 6,494 in the past year. The most notable increase, the figures show, was at the Ulster Hospital. It saw an increase of over 3,000 people facing a 12-hour wait. In total 4,553 waited at the Dundonald facility over 12 hours.

The Health and Social Care Board blamed a challenging year with more older and sicker people attending than in the past. It said transformation of the health care system was the "only long-term sustainable answer".

"This is simply not acceptable and the service is taking steps to ensure improvements are put in place," a spokeswoman said.

UUP MLA Robbie Butler said the figures showed the "spiralling crisis engulfing the NHS in Northern Ireland".

“There are only so many times we can express concern and deepening horror at the deteriorating state of affairs," he added.

"The reality is that in 2018, despite our advances in medical care, patients in Northern Ireland are coming to harm as a result of avoidable delays in receiving treatment."

He added: "Why should the people of Northern Ireland be expected to put up with a failing system like this? It simply isn’t good enough.”

The SDLP's Mark H Durkan described the statistics as "appalling".

“Unfortunately, every time we receive a copy of the latest waiting times for different services across the Health Service, it is no longer a shock when they have deteriorated," he said.

“Despite the dedication of hard working staff, working round the clock, our Health Service is continuing to be starved of political and strategic direction and this is impacting on the frontline. The situation is simply unsustainable. The SDLP has long called for and supported an overall transformation of our Health Service and that is what is required to begin to really tackle the issues at the core."

“We should not accept rising waiting times as the norm. What is needed is functioning institutions, ministers in place and plans for transformation followed through on. Our people deserve more than being left to wait for hours in Emergency Departments and on being left trolleys in corridors. Enough is enough."

A Health and Social Care Board spokeswoman added: "About three out of four people were seen and treated within four hours, however, more people had to wait longer than 12 hours to be seen, treated and either discharged or admitted to hospital.  We recognise this needs to improve.

"People may have a longer wait in ED if they require to be admitted to a hospital ward but a bed is not available. This was recognised during the winter months but can occur at any time of year.

"Staff across all Trusts are working closely with the Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency to identify areas where improvements can be made.

"In 2018/19 more than £8m of transformation funding will be invested into reforming and enhancing services that should help reduce the pressures on emergency care.

"Importantly, this includes measures to help prevent people needing to attend EDs and also steps to support people when they leave hospital."

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