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400 people wait 12 hours or longer in A&E departments in Northern Ireland

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The positive overall trend masks poor progress in the the fight against certain cancers

The positive overall trend masks poor progress in the the fight against certain cancers

The positive overall trend masks poor progress in the the fight against certain cancers

Almost 400 people were forced to wait 12 hours or longer in A&E departments across Northern Ireland in January - despite a fall in the number of patients going to emergency units for treatment.

As our hospitals continue to struggle to cope with spikes in patient numbers, the new figures were branded a "worrying trend" by the Patient Client Council.

And Health Minister Jim Wells says it shows the system is under the "most enormous pressure".

Released by the Department of Health yesterday, the figures showed that between December 2014 and January 2015, the number of patients waiting over 12 hours rose by 288, from 92 to 380. The Mater, Royal Victoria, Antrim Area, Ulster, Craigavon Area, Altnagelvin Area and South West Acute emergency departments all reported increases. This is despite monthly attendances at all emergency care departments dropping by 1,746 from 56,656 to 54,910.

The Ulster's A&E unit had the highest number of 12-hour waits with 237 people spending half-a-day or more to be treated and discharged or admitted in January. There was also a fall in the percentage of people seen and treated within a four hours target, from 73.5% in December to 71.4% in January.

Hospitals across the UK are meant to see 95% of patients in the four-hour timeframe. In December more than 13,000 patients waited up to 12 hours, while 92 waited more than 12 hours.

Louise Skelly from the Patient Client Council said: "This is a worrying trend and behind every wait is a story."

Mr Wells said all trusts experienced a "challenging period".

"These provisional statistics show our emergency care services continue to face enormous pressures," he said. "I am disappointed to see a rise in the number of patients waiting longer than 12 hours... however I am reassured that over 99% of patients were discharged or admitted within 12 hours." He said escalation plans were put in place which included opening additional beds, increased staffing levels and postponing some non-urgent procedures.

Chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, Valerie Watts, said trusts faced "significant pressures".

"The Health and Social Care Board is now working with Trusts to expand services seven days a week where that is not currently the case," she said.

Former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey said the pressures were a clear sign of the lack of funding in the health service.

Belfast Telegraph