Frustrated Northern Ireland A&E chief warns 100 patients: I've only eight doctors to deal with backlog
The doctor in charge of the emergency department (ED) at Antrim Area Hospital has hit out at the conditions being endured by patients and staff.
Addressing people at the ED shortly after 1pm yesterday, he revealed that 10 patients had been waiting on trolleys for more than 12 hours to be admitted to a ward.
A further 100 people were waiting to be seen.
Clearly exasperated by the situation, he said the backlog of patients waiting for a hospital bed was slowing down the speed at which his staff could treat patients arriving at the ED.
He also singled out his colleagues in primary care for criticism.
I don't have 100 doctors and I don't have 50 doctors - I have eight. ED doctor at Antrim Area Hospital
"You will not be seen in the order in which you have arrived, but in the order of priority, he said.
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"That means that some people may seem like they are going ahead of you.
"Please be patient. If we are doing that, it is to speed up the whole of the time people are in this department.
"Sometimes we order X-rays and bloods early, so that when the doctor sees you, she or he can sort you out quicker.
"If any of you are unsure of why you are here, please speak to one of the triage nurses.
"Quite often, GPs kick for touch and send patients up here who don't need to be in an ED.
"Everyone who has turned up will get seen, but some of you listening to this are going to be here for another six or seven hours," he said.
"There are more patients on the way in.
"If anyone wants to leave, please tell a member of the reception staff behind the glass, otherwise doctors and nurses spend time looking for patients who have actually left.
"We are an ED and we will see everybody who has turned up, but not necessarily the order in which you have arrived.
"If I have a cardiac arrest, I have to put three doctors in to that patient and two nurses - it's what you'd want if it was your relative."
The comments by the consultant came after the Northern Trust put up a number of Facebook posts over the weekend and on Monday asking people not to go to the ED if their condition was not urgent or life-threatening.
According to the NI Direct website, the average waiting time at the Causeway Hospital's ED at lunchtime yesterday was 548 minutes - over nine hours.
At the same time, patients at Northern Trust EDs were experiencing lengthy waits.
A 66-year-old patient spent more than two days waiting on an A&E trolley for a bed at the Mater Hospital in north Belfast.
The woman, who was suffering from a respiratory infection, arrived at the unit at 10am on Sunday and was still waiting to be admitted to a ward at lunchtime yesterday.
Her daughter said: "They're worried about mum's oxygen levels and they're trying to get them up.
"She's been on a trolley all this time, but then there are patients who have been sitting on chairs in the corridor - they don't even have a cubicle.
"They told me on Monday night they didn't have any beds at the Mater or the City.
"Basically, any time a bed has become available, it has been taken by someone who is more serious than my mum.
"She has been in a cubicle all this time. It has been so busy they have been wedging other trolleys in next to her.
"Even one of the doctors has been telling us we have to put it in writing what has happened. Even they are fed up."
The Belfast Trust said: "We apologise to any patient who experiences a long wait for a bed to become available.
"Every effort is made to ensure adequate bed provision is maintained, but unpredictable increases in demand place further pressure on the system.
"We have contingency plans in place to reduce the delays for patients waiting on a bed, including offering available beds on a different hospital site to patients."
The Northern Trust said it was seeing an increase in the number of older, sicker people with complex conditions attending, many of them patients with respiratory conditions who need to be admitted.
"If people are seriously ill or injured, then the ED will always be the place to go," it said.
"No matter how busy it may be, if people attend an ED, they will be assessed and triaged as quickly as possible, with the most urgent medical cases given the greatest priority.
"Those not assessed as urgent may have to wait for lengthy periods.
"It would be entirely normal and indeed good practice for people in waiting rooms to be kept informed of the likely extent of those delays."
The delays in EDs come just days after a Westminster committee warned the local health service was on the verge of collapse.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said that if an Executive was not set up by the end of the year, Westminster would have to step in.