More than 4,200 people waited longer than 12 hours in a Northern Ireland emergency department in September last year, it has emerged.
Official figures have revealed the number of 12-hour breaches jumped by 21% in September 2020, compared to September in 2019.
This is despite the fact 12,764 fewer people attended A&Es in September 2020 compared to the previous September.
They are the latest figures to be released by the Department of Health and highlight the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the ability of the health service in Northern Ireland to cope with demand.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland Council, said the situation will have deteriorated further in the last three months of 2020, as the number of Covid-19 cases began to rise again.
“Emergency departments have worked very hard throughout the pandemic and done the best they can, like everyone else in the health service, but it’s just very hard to provide a service in an environment where you’re trying to keep Covid and non-Covid patients separate,” he said.
“Everything takes longer and everything backs up.”
While the number of Covid cases in September were relatively low, Dr Black said hospitals wards were dealing with the ongoing effects of the pandemic.
As time has passed, medics have discovered new and more successful treatments and techniques for treating Covid patients.
As a result, fewer patients are dying, however, they spend longer in hospital recovering from the virus.
This has put additional strain on the system, meaning patients in emergency departments are typically waiting longer for admission to a ward.
Dr Black continued: “Emergency departments have struggled to move patients on, we now have between 100 and 200 patients a day in A&Es waiting to be admitted.
“This leads to the types of scenes we saw a few weeks ago where patients were being treated in the back of ambulances.
“These figures are bad but they are likely to be much worse now as we are in the third spike and the pressure on the system is immense.”
Northern Ireland’s chief scientific officer has said he is confident there will be sufficient intensive care capacity for critically ill patients in the coming weeks.