Latest government statistics on hospital waiting times are deigned to bluff the reader into thinking performance is not getting any worse, a health campaigner has claimed.
Figures released by the Department of Health show that between April and June this year almost 68,000 people attended an Northern Ireland accident and emergency department. Just over 50,000 of those admissions was to a type 1 department, that is a 24-hour A&E which is consultant led and has full resuscitation facilities.
Just over 77% of those attending the type 1 departments were treated and discharged, or admitted within four hours of their arrival. That was over seven percentage points more than the same period in the previous year. The government target is 95%.
Almost 300 people attending faced a wait of over 12 hours for treatment.
During June 2017, patients attending the Causeway Hospital faced an average 5 hour 40 minute wait. The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children reported the shortest median time of 2 hours 48 minutes.
NHS campaigner Hugh McCloy said the figures were designed to "bluff the reader". He said the statistics were being "manipulated" through the use of "pathways" to treatment, such as diverting patients into wards to mask the true extent of waiting times.
"What the stats do tell us though is that in most cases 60% to 80% of those who turn up at acute A&Es need urgent care. The age old excuse of people misusing A&Es is slowly being debunked by their own figures," he said.
Mr McCloy said people in need of non-emergency treatment would have to attend an A&E when there was no minor injuries facility close to them.
"The problem is partly to do with lack of capacity within the A&E," he continued.
"A&Es fill up because they cannot admit patients into wards because the wards are full and then the A&E becomes a holding ward and there is no capacity for more patients.
"It has a whole knock on effect as the ambulance service will start diverting to other hospitals only for the same thing to happen there."
Mr McCloy said that the recent Bengoa report into how to reform the health service only touched on the subject of critical care and indeed suggested closure of minor A&E units, something he says would be more pressure on the remaining departments.
"It is simple the problem is not rocket science it is capacity versus demand and as it stands we do not have the capacity in our acute care system to deal with the people who need acute care.
"We have now had seven years of chaos in acute care, we can’t blame the fact there is no-sitting Stormont government for this problem but I am sure some of the parties will have a go at bluffing the public and let’s be honest collectively we have swallowed excuses for those seven years."