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Record numbers wait 12 hours or longer to be treated in Northern Ireland A&E departments during October

Almost 4,000 patients waited longer than 12 hours in packed emergency departments across Northern Ireland in October
Almost 4,000 patients waited longer than 12 hours in packed emergency departments across Northern Ireland in October
Lisa Smyth

By Lisa Smyth

Almost 4,000 patients waited longer than 12 hours in packed emergency departments across Northern Ireland in October.

An average of 127 people spent half a day or more waiting to be treated or admitted to hospital every day during October after turning up looking for emergency care.

The number of 12-hour breaches in emergency departments (ED) over the 31 days was more than double the amount that occurred in October 2018.

It also represented a 13% rise in the number of people waiting longer than 12 hours compared to September, up from 3,481 to 3,949.

The figures make for grim reading, coming before the likes of any flu outbreaks, and have prompted fears that thousands of seriously ill people will spend hours languishing on hospital trolleys this winter.

It is likely there will also be an impact on the overstretched Ambulance Service as paramedics spend hours off the road while waiting to book their patients into EDs.

According to Health and Social Care Board statistics, casualty departments here have consistently struggled to cope with demand compared to last year.

In April 2018 a total of 1,413 12-hour breaches were recorded, compared to 3,641 in April 2019.

In August 2018 there were 1,499 12-hour breaches, increasing by 50% in August 2019.

Overall, the number of 12-hour breaches looks set to spiral this financial year compared to 2018/19.

Between April 2018 and the end of March 2019, 25,326 people spent more than 12 hours in EDs waiting for treatment or to be discharged.

However, by the end of October 2019 and with another five months to be factored in, 22,057 12-hour breaches had already occurred. The figures have been branded a "record-breaking" failure by a leading emergency care doctor, who has blasted the situation being endured by staff and patients here.

Dr Ian Crawford, vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Northern Ireland, said: "A staggering 3,949 patients spent longer than 12 hours in our EDs in October 2019 - yet another record-breaking systemic failure for our patients and staff.

"It is simply unacceptable that, in the absence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, no one is being held to account for the ever-deepening crisis in health and social care.

"Political oversight is immediately required to secure the corrective investment to increase staffing, the number of acute hospital beds and the social care that are fundamentally required."

The figures come as the deadline for the political parties to get the Assembly back up and running is fast approaching.

Secretary of State Julian Smith has given MLAs until January 13 to re-establish the Executive or face another election.

They are coming under increasing pressure to find a resolution as Mr Smith has continually insisted that he cannot intervene to address the deepening crisis in the health service.

Thousands of health service employees have already staged walk outs, with further strike action planned for the New Year.

The Royal College of Nursing has already said its members will strike on January 8 and 10 after taking part in a 12-hour walkout on December 18.

Meanwhile, most recent government figures revealed there are more than 300,000 people waiting for a first outpatient appointment. And in November a doctor working in Antrim Area Hospital's ED hit out at the conditions being endured by patients and staff.

Addressing patients at the ED, Dr Hugo Dowd revealed 10 patients had been waiting on trolleys for more than 12 hours to be admitted to a ward, while 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. "I don't have 100 doctors, I don't have 50 doctors, I have eight," he said.

"You will not be seen in the order in which you have arrived, but in the order of priority.

"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.

"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."

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