The number of patients waiting more than 12 hours for treatment in emergency rooms has soared by 76% in just one month, shock figures have revealed.
Nearly 1,300 patients waited 12 hours or more to be seen in A&E departments during January, according to a report from the Department of Health.
The figures show that hospitals across Northern Ireland are repeatedly failing to meet targets for treating patients soon after their arrival.
In one Co Antrim hospital, just 57% of patients seeking |emergency treatment were seen by casualty staff in less than four hours.
The news comes amid heightened concern over the impact of cuts on frontline health services.
The SDLP’s South Antrim MLA Thomas Burns said the figures were “horrendous” and “totally unacceptable”.
“The health service should not be taking the brunt of the cuts,” said Mr Burns.
“There is no money being invested in A&E departments and it’s absolutely terrible.”
The statistics show that 77.5% of all patients were treated and discharged or admitted within four hours of arrival at casualty last month.
The top-performing A&Es were Whiteabbey, Mid Ulster, South Tyrone, Armagh/Mullinure and Tyrone County, who saw all patients in less than four hours.
But 1,236 people waited at least 12 hours to be treated in January, compared with just 702 in December last year.
Hospitals in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust had the longest waiting times, with nearly 6% of all patients waiting a whole day to be seen by staff.
Antrim Area Hospital’s A&E department was the slowest in the country, closely followed by the Mater Hospital in north Belfast.
A spokeswoman for the Northern Trust apologised to patients for the long waiting times, saying they were due to “high levels of emergency activity” due to there being more older people in the area and also because of the prolonged bad weather.
Mr Burns blamed budget cuts.
“We need more investment to meet demand for the services in emergency rooms,” he said.
“More and more people are going to A&E and we need a higher number of staff who are able to cope with the day-to-day running of the hospital.”
Indira Laugee (75), a carer from Dundonald, waited nearly 10 hours to be treated after being rushed to the Ulster Hospital with pneumonia last August.
“These figures don’t surprise me because it’s what my experience was like,” she said.
“I was was spitting blood and I was in a lot of discomfort and pain when I arrived at hospital.
“I was so sick that they put me on a trolley.
“I waited on that trolley in the corridor of the casualty department from 3pm in the afternoon until I was given a bed at 1am the following morning. A lot of patients in A&E departments are uncomfortable and in pain, which is how I felt.
“Nobody approached me or apologised to me when I was eventually seen.
“People go to hospitals to get better and they shouldn’t be treated like that, nobody deserves that.”