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Westminster urged to step in after number of long A&E waits soars in Northern Ireland

By Allan Preston

The number of patients who waited more than 12 hours at emergency departments in Northern Ireland has more than quadrupled in the last 12 months.

Ministerial targets state that no patient should wait longer than 12 hours, but between June 2017 and June 2018 numbers increased from 294 to 1,358.

The Ulster Hospital had the longest average wait in an emergency department at seven hours 44 minutes, while the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children had the shortest - three hours 52 minutes.

In the last quarter, ending June 30, some 208,342 attendances were recorded at Northern Ireland's emergency departments. This was 5,040 more than the same period last year (203,302).

The latest figures prompted Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey to call for health powers to be brought back to Westminster "on humanitarian grounds" as waiting lists continue to grow.

In June this year, a total of 69,765 attended emergency departments (EDs) in Northern Ireland, nearly 3,000 more than June 2017.

Ministerial targets state that 95% of patients should be processed - admitted or discharged - within four hours of arrival.

This figure slipped slightly for Type 1 (67.7%) and Type 2 (84.8%) emergency departments - which treat the most serious conditions - but nearly all (99.6%) were treated in time on Type 3 EDs, which treat minor injuries and illnesses. Type 1 EDs are consultant-led, providing 24-hour cover and accommodation for emergency medicine and surgical services.

Of nearly 60,000 patients who attended in June 2018, just over two-thirds (67.7%) were treated and discharged, or admitted within four hours of their arrival. This represents a drop of 10% from June last year.

Overall attendances for Type 1 EDs were up by 2,024.

Type 2 EDs are also consultant-led, but have fixed opening hours and don't provide emergency medicine or surgery.

Nearly 6,000 patients attended in June 2018, with over eight in 10 being treated within four hours, around 300 less than June last year.

Type 3 EDs are open round-the-clock for minor injury and illness, with 99.6% treated within four hours.

Ministerial targets further add that 80% of patients should have started treatment within two hours after triage - the initial assessment.

This target was met with eight in 10 patients commencing their treatment within two hours but represented a 5% dip from June last year.

During June 2018, the average time from triage to treatment was 46 minutes, with 95% of patients receiving treatment within three hours 51 minutes.

For Type 1 patients admitted to hospital, the average wait was around six hours, nearly two hours longer than in June last year.

The average wait to be discharged from hospital for Type 1 patients was two hours 31 minutes - seven minutes longer than last year.

Lord Empey said health powers must be brought back to Westminster as with welfare reform.

"This can be done and should be done given the dire health statistics which clearly show that everyday people are now coming to harm due to the long waits to see consultants," he said.

He added it was "abhorrent" that over 83,000 people in Northern Ireland were waiting over a year for their first appointment.

Belfast Telegraph

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