More patients being treated within four hours at A&Es in Northern Ireland - but units struggling to cope
The number of people treated in Northern Ireland's emergency departments (EDs) within four hours is on the rise.
Official figures have revealed that 36,346 patients attending A&E were seen inside four hours in March, compared to 33,461 in March last year - up 8.6%.
At the same time, 2,576 people returned to EDs across Northern Ireland within one week of visiting.
The statistics released by the Department of Health also revealed that the number of people who waited on A&E trolleys more than 12 hours in March dropped to 2,580 - compared to 3,160 last March.
Despite the improvement, EDs are still struggling to cope with demand, with an average of 215 people waiting longer than 12 hours in emergency units every day during the month of March.
The Ulster Hospital's ED was the worst performing unit for 12-hour breaches, with 756 patients waiting longer than 12 hours.
A healthcare worker said he was not surprised at the statistics and described the conditions for patients and staff at the Ulster Hospital's ED as "horrendous". He said: "I was there over Easter weekend and at one point, there were about 10 ambulance crews waiting to hand their patients over, the place was completely backed up.
"I've been in my job for 20 years and what I saw when I walked in actually took my breath away.
"You would almost describe it as people hanging from the chandeliers it was so busy.
"They don't have the staff, they don't have the trolleys, they don't have the beds in the hospital, it's a nightmare."
The South Eastern Trust said its EDs continue to experience increasing demand.
It said: "Unfortunately, despite introducing a range of measures to help with patient flow both within our hospitals and in community services, some patients are required to wait for extended periods before admission to our limited number of in-patient beds.
"Within our EDs we continue to prioritise those most acutely unwell and we continue to strive to keep patients safe.
"In March 2019, our time to commencing treatment improved by 13 minutes, and the percentage of patients commencing treatment within two hours increased from 72.6% to 80%."
The Ulster Hospital's ED was not the only unit to struggle to cope with demand in March. The number of 12-hour breaches at Altnagelvin Hospital's ED over the month was 216 - up by 53% compared to March last year.
However, the 12-hour breaches at the Mater and Royal Victoria hospitals dropped significantly in March compared to last year, by 65% and 50% respectively.
The Department of Health said EDs are continuing to experience serious pressures.
"There were 204,170 attendances at EDs during the first three months of 2019 - a 6.2% increase on the same period in 2018" it said.
"Clearly, too many patients are waiting too long in our EDs."