A review is being conducted by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust after an elderly woman died having spent what is understood to have been eight hours in an ambulance.
A spokesperson for the trust said they were “very saddened” by the woman’s death at the Ulster Hospital and said their medical and nursing staff did “everything possible” to resuscitate her in the emergency department.
It is understood the death happened on Monday evening with the woman’s condition deteriorating while she was being treated in the ambulance.
A spokesperson for the trust expressed their “deepest condolences” to the woman’s family and explained the emergency department in the hospital had been “under extreme pressure all day”.
The SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley described it as a “heart breaking situation for all involved”.
“So many [questions] but no answers can undo the wrong that saw this elderly lady die under these horrendous circumstances,” she tweeted.
“Thinking of her family and loved ones who will understandably be angry as well as heartbroken. May she RIP [Rest in Peace].”
Her colleague Colin McGrath who sits on Stormont’s Health Committee said the tragic situation has shown “just how bad things have become”.
“My thoughts go out to the family and friends of the elderly woman who died following an eight-hour wait in an ambulance outside the Ulster Hospital,” he said.
"My thoughts are also with the paramedics and medical staff who did all they could to help this woman in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Our staff go above and beyond every day and are being put through serious trauma due to the state our health service is currently in.
"We are no longer able to provide the bare minimum standards of care expected and it is having a serious impact on both patients and staff.
“This death in such tragic circumstances is another reminder of the need to put politics to one side and focus on ways that we can address the crisis in our health service and improve people’s lives on a daily basis. Nobody’s life should end in these circumstances, we must do everything in our power to ensure that this never happens again.”
The pressure on hospitals in Northern Ireland was highlighted last week when a "potential major incident" was declared at Antrim Area Hospital.
At one point, 62 people needed to be admitted to beds that were not available in wards.
A "potential major incident" is one step away from a full major incident, which would have involved the hospital being unable to take any further patients and effectively shutting its doors.
A spokesperson for the South Eastern Trust said: “The South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust is very saddened that an elderly lady died in the Ulster Hospital’s Emergency Department yesterday evening.
“The patient’s condition deteriorated while she was being treated in an ambulance, where she was being cared for by both ambulance staff and medical staff from the hospital.
“The patient subsequently died in the Emergency Department.
“Our medical and nursing staff did everything possible to resuscitate the patient in the Emergency Department.”
They added: “The Emergency Department had been under extreme pressure all day, as it has been for many months. Sustained pressures are being experienced in all of the Emergency Departments across Northern Ireland, resulting in patients having to wait longer than we would like for admission to hospital.
“The South Eastern Trust has been in contact with the lady’s family. We would like express our deepest condolences to them.
“The Trust is carrying out a review.”