Fears for patients as A&E waiting times continue to worsen
Concerns have been raised about soaring waiting times at Northern Ireland's emergency departments.
The number of patients waiting for longer than 12 hours jumped by more than 200% from last year - from 3,115 in January to March 2017, to 9,567 in the same period this year.
Last month only 59.3% of attendees at emergency departments were treated and discharged, or admitted within four hours of their arrival. The Government target is 95%.
The statistics are included in a bulletin on waiting times published yesterday by the Department of Health, which covers the first quarter of 2018.
Dr Ian Crawford, vice president of Royal College of Emergency Medicine Northern Ireland, said the figures were a symptom of the extremely serious problems the health service continued to face.
He added: "At the heart of this are patients, patients whose welfare and dignity suffer whilst waiting in busy, crowded emergency departments for a vacant hospital bed, sometimes for 12 hours or even longer, patients who may be harmed by a system that cannot cope.
"It is for the safety of our patients that we urge the Department of Health, NHS leaders and politicians to recognise the imminent need for sufficient capacity to meet demand."
UUP health spokesman Roy Beggs MLA said the "scale and pace of the deteriorating situation" was frightening.
"The words 'crisis', 'breaking point' and 'unprecedented challenges' are becoming all too regular to describe the situation in the local health service," he said.
"This is not a blip or a short-term problem - our health service is in the midst of its worst ever crisis and it's getting worse with every passing day.
"People are coming to harm because they can't get the right type of treatment when they need it.
"Some of those who can afford it are paying for treatments and procedures privately and those that can't are being forced to suffer enduring pain and discomfort.
The Health and Social Care Board said emergency departments and hospital wards were very busy during the past three months, in keeping with the rest of the UK and Ireland.
It added: "Nobody in the HSC considers this to be an acceptable position and we would apologise to anyone who has had to wait for a long period in an emergency department to be seen, treated, and either admitted to hospital or discharged."