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Long delays blamed for over 4,000 patients leaving A&E before treatment finished

Doctors say figures are ‘stark reality’ of situation


Stock image. Credit: Peter Byrne

Stock image. Credit: Peter Byrne

Stock image. Credit: Peter Byrne

More than 4,000 people left A&E before their treatment was complete in just one month, official figures have revealed.

According to statistics from the Department of Health, 6.6% of the 62,882 attendances at emergency departments (ED) in September left before their treatment was complete.

At the same time, 2,389 people returned to an ED for the same condition within seven days of their original attendance, while 7,393 people waited longer than 12 hours in A&Es over the month-long period.

However, the figures suggest the longest delays were experienced by patients with more complex medical emergencies — the median time patients who were discharged home spent in ED was three hours and 32 minutes in September, compared to 11 hours and 18 minutes for patients who needed inpatient treatment.

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) said the figures “reveal the stark reality” facing patients and staff in overstretched EDs.

Dr Paul Kerr, vice president of the RCEM in Northern Ireland, said: “The current situation is extremely challenging — long stays, ambulance handover delays, dangerous crowding, poor flow throughout hospitals, exit block — these are posing a serious threat to patient safety.

“We have known for a long time that these shocking delays in moving admitted patients to a bed can lead to avoidable harm of patients and even death.

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“Staff are demoralised and exhausted and under the current pressures they are struggling to deliver the quality of care they would like to provide. It is incredibly challenging, but they continue to work incredibly hard to try and keep patients safe and deliver effective care."

The figures have also revealed that one in seven ED attendances in September had been referred by a GP.

Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said this reflects the fact that patients are seeking advice from their family doctors before attending EDs.

He also said the growing number of patients seeking emergency medical attention is linked to Northern Ireland’s soaring hospital waiting lists, which he explained is increasing the pressure across the system.

"We are dealing with 220,000 contacts or consultations every week, with 20,000 face-to-face appointments every day, which is across 330 GP practices,” he said.

"We estimate around 20% of our contacts are from patients struggling to access secondary care or who are recently discharged.”

A shortage of beds in hospital wards was recently blamed on a rise in the number of people dying in A&E.

At the start of the month, Dr Brian Armstrong, director of acute and unscheduled care at the Belfast Trust said he is unable to provide "those patients dignity in death because I’m not able to get them in a timely manner up to a better place upstairs in one of the wards”.

Demand on the ED at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children has also risen considerably in recent months, with 1,539 more attendance at the hospital's A&E in September this year compared to last year.

There were six 12 hour breaches as a result of the pressures.

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