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25,000 wait over 12 hours for A&E treatment - Officials apologise

The Department of Health has apologised after publishing the latest A&E waiting times Credit: Peter Byrne/PA
The Department of Health has apologised after publishing the latest A&E waiting times Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

The Department of Health has apologised after more than 25,000 people waited more than 12 hours to be treated at A&E departments in Northern Ireland.

Newly published figures show in 2018/19 25,300 of the 822,847 people who attended A&E departments waited more than 12 hours to be either treated and discharged home, or admitted.

In 2014/15 the number of people waiting longer than 12 hours was just 3,170.

However, 79.2% patients attending A&E commenced their treatment within two hours of being triaged and 69.9% of patients were dealt with within four hours.

The figures also show that during this period 37.2% of life threatening calls received by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service were responded to within eight minutes. This is down from 57.7% in 2014/15.

The Department of Health said the figures reveal the pressures faced by A&E staff and on the wider health and social care system in Northern Ireland.

"We must again apologise to the significant and growing numbers of patients who have been waiting too long in our emergency departments," a spokesman said.

"Clearly, the current model of care – the way we organise urgent and emergency services together with the flow of patients through our hospitals from admission to discharge – needs to change.

"Demand for care continues to increase and pressures traditionally experienced at winter time are now present throughout the year."

A health service summit is being held next week as part of a ongoing review of urgent and emergency care.

The summit will impact on a public consultation later this year on a new model of emergency care for Northern Ireland.

During the last five years the total number of emergency attendances has increased by 11,857 (15.1%) from 738,665 in 2014/15 to 850,522 in 2018/19.

Since 2014/15 performance against the four hour waiting times target declined by 7.6% from 77.5% to 69.9% in 2018/19.

SDLP health spokesman Mark H Durkan MLA said the figures show that waiting times have "spiralled" out of control and demand "urgent attention".

“We live in a political environment where a lot of things are referred to as a crisis," he said.

"And while I’m not detracting from the very serious pressures on many public services, the figures published today show that emergency care in Northern Ireland needs the most urgent political and clinical attention.

“We have more people attending Emergency Departments and they’re waiting longer and longer for treatment. Waiting targets may as well not exist at the minute, the pressures on the system are so severe that they’re virtually unachievable.

"As political leaders, how can we look any of the 25,326 people who had to wait over 12 hours in an emergency department in the eye and tell them it is acceptable? How can we defend the continued absence of government?

“I am ashamed of this situation. But it would be absolutely shameless to let the political vacuum continue. The Health Service Transformation plan needs strong strategic political leadership. Health Service staff are working every hour, burning themselves out and still it’s not enough. We can’t let that continue.”

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