A&E waiting times in Northern Ireland are longest in UK
More than 13,000 patients left untreated for up to 12 hours
Waiting times at Northern Ireland's Accident and Emergency departments were the worst in the UK last month.
As hospitals continue to struggle to cope with spikes in patient numbers, the latest Department of Health statistics show that one in four of those seeking emergency care in Northern Ireland throughout December were kept waiting longer than the target of four hours to be treated.
More than 13,000 patients were left waiting up to 12 hours, while 92 waited more than 12 hours.
Hospitals across the UK are meant to see 95% of patients within the four-hour timeframe. However, just 76.7% of patients in Northern Ireland were seen within four hours last month -- well below waiting times in England where 90.2% of patients were seen.
Health Minister Jim Wells defended the performance of Northern Ireland's A&E units.
"There have been tremendous successes; four years ago, there were over 4,000 people waiting in A&E for more than 12 hours. Now, we are taking about the low hundreds. When you work hard to bring down the 12-hour breaches, that has a knock-on effect on meeting the four hour targets."
He blamed patient pressure for the failure to meet A&E targets: "Demand in Northern Ireland continues to rise dramatically - 6% year on year.
"Far too many people are presenting themselves in emergency departments who shouldn't be there."
The revelations come just days after the Helath Minister had said there was not a problem and the public should feel reassured - despite the postponement of 200 operations following pressures on emergency departments here.
However, Stormont health committee member Kieran McCarthy said that health service top brass hadn't done a terribly good job of sorting out the problem of A&E waiting time performance. And he warned that the situation was "going from bad to worse".
Department of Health statistics show that last month the longest waits were at Antrim Area Hospital where just 69.1% of patients were seen within four hours, the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast (64.4%) and the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald (69.1%).
At the Ulster Hospital, 45 patients were waiting more than 12 hours, while 43 were kept waiting more than 12 hours at the Royal Victoria.
Performance at the region's A&Es was worse in December than in November, when 80.5% of patients were seen within four hours.
All trusts cancelled some operations last week to tackle demands on the emergency system.
A&E waiting times in Northern Ireland have got worse in the past month. Hospitals are meant to see 95% of patients in four hours. But, during December, just 76.7% in Northern Ireland were seen. In England it was 90.2% and 81% in Wales. While no up-to-date data is available for Scotland, its performance in September was 93.5%