A new system at the Royal Victoria Hospital's A&E department, aimed at addressing waiting time pressures, is helping to keep an extra ambulance on the road every day, a leading consultant has said.
Doors opened at the Emergency Department in the new £150m multi-storey regional critical care building in August, after the Trust faced heavy criticism over its management, lack of staff morale and spiralling waiting times.
The system was aimed at easing the flow of patients being treated throughout the hospital.
Speaking yesterday John Maxwell, consultant in emergency and acute medicine and clinical director of emergency medicine in Belfast, said that ahead of winter pressures they are seeing "improvements".
Among changes introduced was a larger area for patients who arrive into A&E by ambulance.
"Ambulance turnaround times have been reduced by 14 minutes per ambulance, which the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS) tells us equates to 169 hours per month and equates to an extra ambulance on the road every day," he said.
Mr Maxwell also said a medical assessment unit is helping to direct patients to get the most appropriate treatment quicker, resulting in fewer admissions and improvements in waiting times.
"There have been 18.5% fewer people having to be brought into hospital and admitted to a ward," he said.
"We pool patients into a medical assessment area for different issues and deliver a service which is more suited to them." Dr Maxwell's comments come a week after the Health Board launched an online casualty wait checker as part of new plans to reduce treatment delays over the winter.
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and Public Health Agency (PHA) are establishing new localised structures in each health trust area.
HSCB chief executive Valerie Watts said the joined-up approach would help towards "the eradication of waiting times across Northern Ireland in emergency departments".
She said waiting figures had dropped, with 10,000 waiting over 12 hours in emergency departments across Northern Ireland in 2011/12, and 3,000 in 2014/15.
"The plan now is for the PHA and the board to take up the task of ensuring that over the next few years, we bring that figure down to absolutely no one having to wait over 12 hours."
As part of the Trust's new initiative, live waiting times in emergency departments will appear on a web page that will also allow access to information on alternative care options.