A&E wait times up in June as 281 hit by 12-hour delay
Almost 300 people spent more than half-a-day in emergency departments across Northern Ireland waiting to be treated and discharged or admitted to a ward, new figures show.
Last month 281 patients waited longer than 12 hours - 45 more people than June last year.
However, the Department of Health figures showed an increasing pressure on staff, as A&E departments were coping with 3,209 more patients than in 2015. According to ministerial targets, no patient attending any A&E department should wait longer than 12 hours either to be treated and discharged, or admitted.
Health Minister Michelle O'Neill described the wait as "not acceptable" but said she would be working with the Health and Social Care Board to prevent avoidable 12-hour waits.
The escalating crisis over waiting times and lists has been an ongoing concern for some time.
The figures come as Professor Rafael Bengoa handed over his key report on the restructuring of the health service to Ms O'Neill. He led an expert panel that will help shape the future of healthcare in Northern Ireland. The minister will then consider the proposals and publish her recommendations in the autumn.
She said: "Emergency departments continue to face significant pressure - in June there were 66,384 new and unplanned review attendances reported, 3,209 more than in the same month last year.
"However, despite this increased attendance, the majority of ED patients were assessed and treated much sooner. In June over four in five patients attending ED commenced treatment within two hours of being triaged, with most people triaged within 32 minutes of arrival. That said, it is not acceptable that any patient should wait longer than 12 hours in an ED. I continue to look to the Health and Social Care Board and trusts to work to eliminate all avoidable 12-hour waits."
UUP health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson MLA said "worryingly" the number of people being forced to wait over 12 hours for treatment continued to grow.
"Patients attend our emergency departments for a whole series of reasons, and waiting 12 hours very often only intensifies their pain, discomfort and anxiety," she said.
"It is essential that on the day the minister received a copy of the Bengoa Report, but gave no indication of what was in it, that she listens to local clinicians and takes the steps they are suggesting, such as overhauling the referral process, to try once and for all to get to grips with the current situation."
After handing over his report, Professor Bengoa said: "Our task has been to make recommendations on a future health and social care model which will deliver a financially sustainable service, providing high quality outcomes in the face of changing patterns of demand.
"In the course of our work we have been able to talk to people from different parts of the health and social care system and we have been struck by the consistency of the messages we have received. There is a strong appetite for reform and there now seems to be a clear window of opportunity to harness this energy and drive transformation forward."