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Northern Ireland casualty units close to breaking point: MP

By David Young

Hospital casualty departments in Northern Ireland are reaching breaking point, according to DUP MP Jim Shannon.

The Strangford MP was speaking as the Province's emergency units continued to experience intense pressure over the Christmas and New Year period.

Yesterday, the A&E Department at Antrim Area Hospital reported 80 people waiting to be treated, discharged or admitted, while at Causeway Hospital in Coleraine more than 30 people were in the same position.

At Altnagelvin, A&E waiting times were approaching two hours, while the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast and the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald were reporting waiting times of more than 90 minutes.

The longest waiting times were at Causeway in Coleraine, where it was taking on average more than four hours to see a doctor.

Health chiefs' advice to people in the area who were thinking about heading for A&E because their GP services were closed for holidays was blunt: "Please only go to the ED if you are very seriously ill or injured and need to be treated urgently. If you attend with a non-urgent or non life threatening condition you will have a very long wait," the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said.

Mr Shannon told the Belfast Telegraph that pressure on the NHS emergency services was "now reaching breaking point".

The MP said that while some of the additional funds earmarked for the NHS in Northern Ireland because of the DUP's confidence and supply pact with the Conservative Government in London had come through, more needed to be released urgently.

"We're coming to a crux - and we may have to look at other methods to enable NI departments to function ."

Mr Shannon was speaking after it emerged that an extra 400 doctors are needed to add ress a shortfall in out-of-hours provision in Northern Ireland

SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan MLA had a similar message, saying health transformation is "no longer a goal, it is a necessity".

The Foyle MLA said last night: "Now that the Western Health Trust has introduced its 'Full Capacity Protocol' people should only attend the emergency department if it is absolutely necessary.

"Clearly the trust has found itself in the situation where it is filled to capacity and where it has had to take extraordinary measures.

"I am assured it is doing all it can to ensure patients are seen as quickly as possible and emergency care must remain a priority.

"For some, time the SDLP has warned of the deepening of our health crisis and the pressures staff are facing to deliver safe effective care.

"With growing waiting lists and fewer nurses, we cannot wait for action. Health must be prioritised and political leadership must step in.

"Transformation is no longer a goal, it is a necessity."

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