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Over 600 patients endured 12-hour A&E wait in Northern Ireland last month

By Victoria O'Hara

More than 600 people who attended emergency departments (EDs) across Northern Ireland waited more than half a day to be treated, discharged or admitted to hospital last month.

Latest figures from the Department of Health showed that 666 patients waited longer than 12 hours in March. A year before 613 experienced a half-day wait in A&E units.

The figures also reveal medics face further pressure with a growing demand for care at ED departments across the region. During that month there was a jump of 8.6% in people going to A&E departments compared to the year before.

In that same month, 68% of patients were treated, discharged or admitted within four hours of their arrival.

The busiest EDs that month were the Ulster Hospital which treated 7,971 people and the Royal Victoria which had 7,850 patients through the A&E doors.

The Royal Victoria reported the largest improvement in 12-hour performance, dropping from 221 cases in March 2015 to 49 a year later.

At the Ulster this rose from 97 to 231 cases. However, it had the highest number of people needing treated and less than a third had to wait longer than four hours. Across Northern Ireland 95% of patients were triaged within 37 minutes of their arrival at an ED in March 2016.

Overall, 73.5% of ED attendances were treated and discharged, or admitted within four hours of their arrival - short of the 95% target in Northern Ireland. Government guidelines state that no patient should be waiting 12 hours.

Ulster Unionist health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson said: "The revelation that only 68.6% of people attending our emergency departments were either treated or admitted within four hours, despite the official target being 95%, is therefore indicative of the sheer scale of the crisis facing our local NHS.

"The gridlock in our local A&Es is not only bad for our hospitals and GPs, but it's bad for the health of patients. The only thing preventing our local A&Es from collapsing entirely is the dedication and sheer commitment of our hospital staff."

A DHSSPS spokeswoman said there was an 9% increase in the number of people attending Emergency Departments between January and March 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. The 66,799 attendances during March 2016 was 5,000 more than in March the previous year and the highest recorded.

"Despite the extra numbers, less than 1% waited over 12 hours to be seen, treated and discharged or admitted to a ward," the DHSSPS spokeswoman said.

"That said, it is not acceptable any patient should wait longer than 12 hours, and there is a significant amount of work right across the system to continue the steady progress that has been made since 2011/12 when over 10,000 people waited more than 12 hours."

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