The number of people attending emergency departments (EDs) in Northern Ireland is steadily increasing as lockdown eases, new figures suggest.
Statistics from the Department of Health show that, in April of this year, there were 35,439 ED attendances. This increased to 49,541 in May and 54,448 in June.
Compared to the same quarter later year, this represents a 30% decrease in attendances.
Around two-thirds (65.5%) of patients at Type 1 EDs, which are led by consultants and provide emergency medicine and surgical services over 24 hours, were treated, discharged or admitted within four hours of their arrival.
However, from April to June, a total of 2891 patients spent more than 12 hours in EDs across Northern Ireland.
Ministerial targets state that 95% of patients should be treated and discharged or admitted with four hours of their arrival.
The average time from arrival at an ED to initial assessment in June 2020 was seven minutes.
Dr Paul Kerr, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine Northern Ireland, said change is needed to avoid the return of crowded EDs seen prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is deeply concerning that the number of patients waiting more than 12 hours is already rising dramatically in some trusts, in a world where we are going to have to treat and manage patients alongside the coronavirus, this is simply unacceptable," he added.
“The resetting and redesigning of emergency departments will play an integral role in ensuring that patients are receiving the best care in the appropriate setting while also reducing crowding in our departments.”
Health Minister Robin Swann said: “While the numbers of people attending emergency departments fell during the lockdown period, they have been rising steadily again.
“In the context of Covid-19, we must not permit overcrowding in our emergency departments to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“A number of initiatives are being developed to address this issue.
“This is an important priority, ahead of winter pressures for our emergency departments and the potential for further waves of Covid-19 infection.”
In June, Craigavon Area Hospital had the longest average waiting time from arrival to admission at eight hours and 36 minutes, while the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children had the shortest at two hours and 53 minutes.