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We are over the cliff edge: Warning as 400 wait over 12 hours in Northern Ireland A&Es

Some waiting over two days

Emergency departments are under increasing pressure
Emergency departments are under increasing pressure
Andrew Madden

By Andrew Madden

A total of 400 patients have been waiting more than half a day in emergency departments in Northern Ireland over the last 24 hours, a top medic has said.

Dr Ian Crawford said he was aware of some patients spending "up to and beyond" 48 hours in emergency departments.

The Northern Ireland vice president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said staff were working under "extreme pressure" and have been forced to treat patients in corridors and other "inappropriate spaces".

He warned the health sector has "fallen over the cliff edge" and called for immediate political action to resolve the issues.

"Elderly, frail patients are spending long periods of time in chairs, on trolleys, on beds in corridors and other inappropriate spaces in our emergency departments," Dr Crawford told BBC Radio Ulster.

"There is a significant risk of harm for these patients, which ranges from: a lack of privacy and dignity, through to delays in delivering care, and associated risks of mortality associated with spending long periods of time in emergency departments."

He said political oversight is needed to ensure there is adequate funding provided to increase staffing levels and the number of hospital beds.

The warning comes following a series of strikes in December by healthcare workers over pay and staffing issues.

It was the first time in history members of the Royal College of Nursing voted to go on strike. Days later, members of the Northern Ireland's largest healthcare union, Unison, also voted to take industrial action.

Dr Crawford said it will be "very difficult" to resolve the issues facing emergency departments in the short term.

"In very simple terms we've run out of beds. There is a lack of functional capacity in our hospitals as a result of the reduction in the number of beds by around 30% since 2005," he said.

"I think that we have fallen over the edge of the cliff and the ground is rapidly racing up to meet us."

Sinn Fein health spokesperson Pat Sheehan said the news is "concerning" and so-called "winter pressures" on emergency departments are now a year-round problem.

“The capacity is currently not there to meet demands facing services and as a result hard working health and social care staff are left struggling to provide safe and high standards of care in the context of significant staff shortages," he added.

“Significant investment in health and social care services is needed for transformation to works and to address the crisis situation in health and social care.

“This includes securing pay parity for workers and ensuring there are safe staffing levels. I have sought clarity from the Department of Health regarding its ongoing review process into Emergency Departments.

Earlier this week, the Belfast Telegraph revealed that a record number of patients waited more than 12 hours in Northern Ireland emergency departments in October.

Almost 4,000 patients - an average of 127 a day - spent half a day or more waiting to be treated or admitted in packed A&Es.

The represents double the number of 12-hour breaches compared to the same period in 2018.

Elsewhere, the Southern Trust apologised for delays at Craigavon Area Hospital's emergency department after the son of an elderly patient complained of "absolute chaos" on New Year's Eve.

In a post of social media, a Dungannon man said his ill 92-year-old mother was forced to wait on a hospital trolley for two hours.

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