Expert warns move has led to logjam in emergency departments due to lack of beds
Efforts to address Northern Ireland’s waiting list shame are causing a crisis in emergency departments, a leading medic has warned.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has said that increasing the number of elective operations has resulted in a logjam in A&Es as there are not enough beds for emergency admissions.
Subsequently, patients are enduring “the longest waits for emergency admissions” ever seen here, with 400 people waiting longer than 12 hours in emergency departments on Tuesday, according to Dr Paul Kerr, RCEM (NI) vice president.
In a damning assessment of the declining situation, Dr Kerr said: “Things are very bad at the moment, with the largest numbers and longest waits for emergency admissions we have ever seen.
“There is no visible plan for resolving this situation in our region and while a recovery plan has been launched for elective care, this appears to have led to a crisis in emergency admissions.
“The capacity to do more elective work is being created by expanding the number of emergency patients waiting on trolleys in emergency departments across Northern Ireland, with 400 waiting over 12 hours on Tuesday, and some much longer.
“The idea that emergencies can be made to wait while elective patients are prioritised reflects a deep misunderstanding of the hospital system.
“They may indeed be the same patients who are presenting by different paths.
"This is a threat to patient safety and we urgently need plans to rectify the situation.
“All attempts at recovery in each area may be derailed if this is not addressed.
“The situation is threatening the wellbeing and retention of staff where that is already a problem.”
It comes as the latest statistics from the Department of Health revealed that 10 of the 12 local acute hospitals were operating over capacity on Tuesday.
According to the figures, which provide a snapshot of the situation across the system at 9am on July 6, only Altnagelvin and Craigavon Area Hospitals were operating within capacity.
Ulster, Belfast City and Antrim Area Hospitals were operating at 16%, 13% and 11% over capacity respectively.
Across the whole system, there were 273 people waiting to be admitted, while there were 184 more beds in use than the total available.
Yesterday Jennifer Welsh, chief executive of the Northern Trust, said the system is experiencing significant pressures and apologised to those experiencing lengthy waits in emergency departments.
She said the service is struggling to cope with the current low number of Covid-19 and warned the situation could deteriorate further: “We can’t afford for those cases to become higher.”
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said the service is “experiencing unprecedented pressures” and urged people to use the most appropriate service possible.
She said the department is investing an additional £13m across urgent and emergency care services in 2021/22, as well as pressing ahead with recommendations from the review of urgent and emergency care, but warned “it will not be possible to fix the issues which have been building up in our health service for years overnight”.